Within the hangars of BAE Systems in Lancashire, UK lies a remarkable fleet of Typhoon aircraft, serving as airborne laboratories for cutting-edge research. These aircraft, officially known as Instrumented Production Aircraft (IPA), are the essential driving force behind the ongoing evolution of Typhoon as a formidable combat aircraft. Few individuals possess a deeper understanding of the IPA fleet than Steve Formoso, the Head of Air Flying at BAE Systems, who has accumulated countless flight hours in the cockpit of various IPAs. In this article, Formoso sheds light on the significance of these aircraft and their integral role in maintaining Typhoon’s position as the backbone of global air power. The IPA fleet is distributed across test centers in different countries, including BAE Systems in the UK, Airbus Germany in Germany, Airbus Spain in Spain, and Leonardo in Italy. Each center houses several IPAs, enabling their respective teams to conduct development flights for testing and refining new capabilities. These aircraft are configured to closely resemble the production models, ensuring accurate representation of the customer’s aircraft.
However, the collaborative nature of the Eurofighter partnership transcends national boundaries. The collective experience and expertise of the partner nations are shared, allowing all parties to benefit from the synergy of joint efforts. While they are occasionally referred to as flying testbeds, the IPAs offer far more than mere experimentation. True to their name, the Instrumented Production Aircraft are equipped with an extensive array of flight test equipment, meticulously capturing every aspect of the flight, from takeoff to landing and everything in between. This detailed monitoring, tailored for specific tasks, encompasses every data point, ranging from a simple button press to the performance of individual sensors at any given moment. Similar to Formula One cars, IPA aircraft are equipped with advanced telemetry capabilities that enable real-time streaming of data from the aircraft to the ground team. This seamless flow of information provides the team with a comprehensive understanding of the flight dynamics during each mission, allowing for close monitoring and analysis. Real-time data availability empowers the test team to make crucial decisions and implement changes on the fly, particularly in projects such as Flight Control System trials and air-to-air refueling tests. The telemetry team can scrutinize the intricate performance details of valves, fuel pressures, and quantities, revealing insights that a pilot alone would be unable to observe from the cockpit. This continuous exchange of information between the telemetry crew and the test pilot underscores the indispensability of the IPAs.
Prior to each test flight, significant groundwork is laid on test rigs, where initial development activities take place. Subsequently, during IPA flights, the test team endeavors to validate the findings in the real-world environment. Certain aspects, such as weapon firing, cannot be simulated and necessitate real-world tests for accurate assessment. Externally, the IPA aircraft may resemble other Typhoons, but they can be easily outfitted with high-speed digital cameras in pods, capturing different facets of the tests. The chequered markings on the aircraft and accompanying weapons serve a purpose beyond aesthetics; they are meticulously positioned to facilitate calibration of the behavior and interaction between the aircraft and the tested missile during firing. Every facet of the aircraft is geared towards data gathering. During weapon firings, a chase aircraft captures the event from a safe vantage point, while the missile itself transmits telemetry data back to a ground station. Expert engineering teams, such as those at BAE Systems in Warton, Lancashire, harness this data to enhance Typhoon’s capabilities further. While the cockpit of an IPA closely resembles that of a production aircraft, it features an additional set of controls on the right-hand side, dedicated to flight test instrumentation. Furthermore, IPA aircraft are reconfigurable to accommodate a wide range of trials