By Mike Thompson.Engines.

It's true to say that during the years I spent with the Engineering Department at the College of Aeronautics I was involved with a wide variety of aircraft types from the Harrier to the Hawk, from the Lancaster to Hurricanes and Spitfires, from the MS Paris to the Jetstream et al. But I guess I never thought I would be involved with model aircraft!! However, as I'm sure you all know, the Royal Air Force Inspectorate of Recruitment used to own a number of facsimile aircraft that it had at its disposal to use at displays and exhibitions throughout the UK in support of its recruiting activities.

The facsimiles were full-size replicas of aircraft in current service and usually depicted particular aircraft from one of the relevant squadrons.

Every five or six years the facsimiles would undergo major refurbishment and, at that time, the opportunity was taken to update them to modern standards and to modify them to make them more user friendly by their crews when on tour.

An original study carried back in 1980 into the design and construction of a Panavia Tornado GR Mk 1 IDS (Interdictor/Strike) aircraft facsimile supported the concept that it would be feasible to construct a facsimile of this aircraft in such a way that it could be transported on a single low load vehicle.

The scheme relied on the wings being swept back and folded, the tailerons being disengaged from the fuselage and then folded upward, the fin and rudder then to track forward along the top of the fuselage, followed by the rudder and part of the fin folding and turning to allow the fin, rudder and taileron assemblies to be secured together. Finally removal of the nose cone and manual retraction of the undercarriage enabled the aircraft to be loaded onto its transportation vehicle. (Phew!!)

This quite complicated method and sequence of preparation for transit and subsequent deployment at exhibitions began to take its toll on the facsimiles structure to a point where more and more manpower was needed to carry out the process and the repair and maintenance required to keep the facsimile in display condition was increasing.

With this problem in mind a review was carried out in 1988 that concluded the Tornado IDS facsimile should be refurbished. However, this time it would be modified for transportation on two vehicles rather than one and the use of a crane-on-site to assist in the assembly and disassembly procedures.

This meant the sweep back and fold method of wing stowage previously used would be replaced by a more simple lift off by crane into a racking system. Similarly, craning off the tailerons and the top half of the fin/rudder assembly would be introduced.

In July 1989 a contract was placed with the College of Aeronautics which enabled the extensive redesign programme to commence, so when the facsimile arrived at Cranfield in October of that year we were able to start work immediately to manufacture the wing and centre fuselage metal structural members.

The Glass Fibre Reinforced Plastic (GFRP) wing and fuselage skins were salvaged from the old facsimile but nevertheless required considerable maintenance and repair prior to their reassembly to the new all metal structural wing box, central beam and spar components.

During the structural changes we carried out additional modifications to introduce attachments to the lower fuselage and to the pylons on the wings to carry an updated range of facsimile stores including AIM-9L Sidewinder Air to Air Missiles, BOZ-107 ECM Chaff and Flare Dispensers, ECM Sky Shadow Pod and JP 233 Airfield Attack Weapon System, all of which had to be readily removable for storage on the transportation vehicles between displays.

In addition to the facsimiles structural alterations and the GFRP refurbishment the new specification now required the undercarriages to be raised and lowered hydraulically rather than manually to facilitate loading onto the transportation vehicle. This was achieved by designing and installing a self contained hydraulic system operated from a control panel mounted in the lower port nacelle.

The hydraulic system introduced for the undercarriage was extended to operate the mechanism used to raise and lower the two JP 233 Airfield Attack Weapon pods mounted on the lower fuselage.

The cockpit arrangement was developed by DJJ Models of Aldershot and appeared more like a Tornado Simulator than a facsimile in that, with electrical power selected, as the throttles were opened the engine instruments react accordingly and the operator is subjected to the appropriate level of engine noise. Furthermore, the flight instruments move relative to control column inputs. These features, coupled with a moving map display and miniature screens either side of the upper front instrument panel depicting a Tornado in flight over terrain, gave a remarkable degree of realism.

By the summer of 1990 the facsimile was nearing completion and soon all that remained was to repaint it to the colour scheme representing an aircraft of XV Squadron which was, at the time, operating Tornado GR1 aircraft at RAF Laarbruck in Germany.

During the repainting process the decision was taken that the facsimile would represent the XV Squadron Tornado Coded 'F' and would have the MacRobert's family crest and the words 'MACROBERTS REPLY' applied to the side fuselage. The reason for this is a tradition that began in 1941 when Lady MacRobert as a tribute to, and in memory of, her three sons, two of whom perished whilst on active service with the Royal Air Force and the other who died in an aircraft accident, gave a sum of money to purchase for the war effort four Hurricane Aircraft and a Short Stirling Bomber. The Stirling (see note), when handed over to XV Squadron in 1941, bore the MacRobert family crest and the words 'MACROBERTS REPLY'. Though the Stirling has long gone, the tradition has not, for successive aircraft coded 'F' flown by XV Squadron have borne the crest and words as does a Tornado serving today. It is this aircraft which is now depicted by the facsimile.

On Monday 17th September 1990 Professor M J Rycroft (then) Head of the College of Aeronautics handed the completed Tornado facsimile back to the Royal Air Force at a ceremony attended by Gp Capt P F A Canning (then) Deputy Director of Recruiting (RAF).

Emphasis was made at the ceremony reflecting the hard work and great skills demonstrated by the staff of the College of Aeronautics Engineering and Design teams having completed the very complicated project in such a short time and to such a high standard.

Note: The first operational mission flown by the 'MacRoberts Reply' Stirling Bomber after joining XV Squadron was to Nuremburg in 1941. It was therefore to our great delight that Sqn Ldr Peter Boggis DFC RAF (Ret'd) the pilot who flew that and many other missions in the Stirling was able to attend and participate in the handover ceremony at Cranfield. Sadly Peter passed away peacefully on 2nd June 2010, at Dumfries Hospital, aged 92.

PS: From XV Squadron Association:

If any readers have served on XV Squadron during their career then do visit their website; the Association is always keen to recruit new members (£15 one-off lifetime membership fee). Details can be found on their website or by e-mail to -