Why is it that although the current technical issue impacting on the Hawk T2 Adour engine has been known for some considerable time that it is only in the past couple of weeks that we have been formally told by the Ministry of Defence that the effects will last until the end of 2025?
Timed with other major and as yet, unresolved issues, impacting on the RAF such as whether the Chief of the Air Staff may or may not have broken the law by effectively allowing a policy of positive discrimination in order to increase numbers of women and ethnic minorities joining and moving through the RAF, policies that could as a result, ignore the vital importance of trainees acquiring the highest possible standards in order to pass and move through the system let alone in the level of apparent ignorance in regard of the importance of achievement and merit and that subsequently impacts all the way through the system, it seems that as each day passes there are more questions than answers about the current state of the Royal Air Force.
One of the very first jobs tasked of the current Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Mike Wigston by the then Secretary of State for Defence was the sorting out the many problems that existed in the process of fast jet training. Arguably, there was in fact only one problem – training was just not being given sufficient levels of funding required.
Leaving aside the many and vexing issues related to training such as equipment capability issues, retention of qualified trainers and that while some may well love the place, RAF Valley certainly does not appeal to everyone, at the heart of the problem of training lies a lack of sufficient funding and the MOD’s desire to place cost as being secondary to capability and to do everything on the cheap. Now there is yet another problem and one that I fear that the powers that be will be slow to address.
Answering a parliamentary question in the House of Commons last week the newly appointed Minister of State, Mr Alec Shelbrooke confirmed that a fault had been identified with the jet engine of the Hawk T2 aircraft, one that is used for Advanced Fast Jet Training (AFJT) at RAF Valley and worse, he said that “initial assessments suggest an impact on fast-jet training output for the next three years”.
The Minister of State went on to say in his reply that “A fault has been identified with the Rolls-Royce/Safran Adour 951 engine, which powers the Hawk T2. The fault affects the components contained in the Safran-manufactured Module 1 of the engine, also known as the low-pressure compressor. As a precaution, a number of engines have been temporarily removed from service whilst the Ministry of Defence supports a Rolls-Royce/Safran investigation into the root cause and rectification. While this has reduced current aircraft availability, fast-jet training is continuing at RAF Valley” adding that “Initial assessments suggest the reduction in aircraft availability will have an impact on UK fast-jet training output over the next three years, but work is ongoing to minimise that impact.”
Technical problems such as the one confirmed in the ministerial answer can and do happen. But what is the MOD doing about it other than presumably talking to Rolls-Royce and maybe the French manufacture Safran whose components are the source of the problem? Your guess is as good as mine and the answer at this stage is probably little if anything else.
In days of yore, something like this occurring would have been unlikely to have caused such a huge problem for fast jet training. Why? Because experience and common sense would have ensured that when it ordered 28 BAE Hawk T2 jets back in 2006 it would ensure that it also ordered sufficient numbers of spare engines. But no, sadly this is the do everything on a shoestring MOD we are talking about and what did they do? They acquired just one spare engine to cover 28 in-service Hawk T2 jets.
For the record, specifically designed for training purposes, the BAE Systems Hawk is an advanced twin seat trainer aircraft powered by a single engine. Just over 1,000 Hawk jets have been built and sold to nine different countries internationally and over 3,000 Adour engines have so far been delivered – the vast majority of these for the Hawk jet, but the engine is also power Indian Air Force Sepecat Jaguar military jets and the Mitsubishi F-1 and F-2.
Worldwide, Adour engines, including those for Hawk jets built in the US under licence and known there as the T-45 Goshawk have accumulated close to 9 million flight hours. Adour engines are also used by French and Indian
The Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Mk 951 Adour engine is manufactured by Rolls-Royce in collaboration with Safran subsidiary Turbomeca. The Adour Mk951 (US Designation F405-RR-402) is the latest version and is a twin spool, counter-rotating turbofan engine that delivers thrust in the range of 5,000 to 8,000 pounds.
I do not have any doubts that the engine problem currently impacting of RAF Hawk T2 will be resolved although I also accept that this will take time. What concerns me most is that during the time that this takes RAF trainee pilots will have their ‘actual flying hours’ further reduced and that it is quite possible to perceive of another large gap occurring in the output of fully trained pilots.
By the way, if I happened to be wondering how, in order to get sufficient numbers of ethnic minority pilots trained in the current year and maybe in the next and in the knowledge that in order to meet self-set ethnic minority targets for fast jet training of pilots, the RAF last year chose to fast-track those of ethnic minority status, some of whom one might not in ordinary circumstances have been expected to go through the system until this year or next, left themselves with a problem of seemingly having none to count in current year figures, some might even argue that the current Adour engine issue and delay to fast jet training which they can use as an excuse, might even play into their (the RAF) hands. More on this and other matters relating to these and other issues including what looks to many rather like a fudged internal Inquiry that seemingly looked only at present revised training polices used by the RAF in the coming days.
Assuming the Adour engine problems as outlined by the Minister are likely to take maybe several years to fully resolve and as each RAF T2 Hawk engine will of necessity require to go through a rebuild process, what I would have liked to hear is that the MOD is looking to acquire additional, albeit it temporary, trainer aircraft capability from other users.
However, I suspect that what they will do is to argue that actual flying training is far less necessary and that trainee pilots will spend more time doing synthetic based simulation training. I am personally a great believer in synthetic based training but nothing and I mean nothing, better trains fast jet pilots than this combined with actual flying training.
Options are limited but it is worth stating here that on my own frequent visits to RAF Valley between 2010 and 2018 it was not unusual for there to be as few as six Hawk T2 jets available for actual flying training. What I believe that they will almost definitely not do is to extend the life of the Hawk T1 which and which, apart from those used by the RAF Red Arrows aerobatic team, will soon all be gone – although I would love to be proved wrong.
CHW (London – 20th September 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785