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& Bullets

Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.


With reviews of books that cover these topics


Testing Tornado

Cold War Naval Fighter Pilot to BAe Chief Test Pilot


J David Eagles                  The History Press, 2016

The sub-title says it all. Eagles’ flying career lasted from 1954 to 1996, and he led a charmed life in terms of postings. He entered the Royal Navy for National Service, making his preference for the Fleet Air Arm known. But luck started with his initial flying training being in Pensacola, rather than some windswept Lincolnshire field. His first FAA flying was on Vampires and Sea Hawks, but then he lucked out again with a posting to the Australian Navy, albeit initially on the obsolescent Firefly.


Back in the UK he flew most of the classic jets of the period – Sea Vixen, Hunter, etc. His reports must have been good, for his desire to join a course at the Empire Test Pilots’ School (then at Farnborough), was granted. Already having US and Australian mates, this widened his international network further.  Once qualified he was sent to Boscombe Down (the RAe then operated also from Bedford and Farnborough). There are plenty of interesting stories as he and his colleagues nursed the products of Britain’s shrinking aerospace industry to operational success.


With his FAA background he was unsurprisingly given the testing of the Buccaneer, particularly the evaluation of the Mk 2. An ejection from a deck launch put paid to jet flying for a while, but then luckily he had recovered enough to take an operational tour on the Bucc with 809 NAS. One senses an airman with little interest in scrambling up the service career ladder, and in 1968  he joined BAe as a test pilot. He caught the tail-end of the aborted TSR2 project, but the core of this last stage of his career was a central role – from the outset – in the development of the MRCA, which became the Tornado. As a tripartite venture this had plenty of scope for arguments, travel, and assorted international malarkey. This was – and is – a central asset in major European air forces, and so Eagles’ account will have some appeal to those interested in its gestation.


The book is written in a business-like style, and one only occasionally gets a glimpse of the man behind the helmet. It comes to an abrupt end, with his personal life summarised in a couple of sentences!  But an interesting account of someone in a central role in the emergence of a European military aircraft industry.


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