The Air Force operates its Eurofighters in 73rd (GE) Fighter Wing “Steinhoff” at Laage Air Base (near Rostock/Germany) on its own responsibility for more than a year now. The start of this event, the most important one for the Air Force in the last decades, took place on 30 April 2004 in a ceremonial act performed by State Secretary Dr. Eickenboom and the Chief of Staff, Air Force. The following article is to show in a brief overview the procurement process since the delivery of the first aircraft to the government, the beginning of the use of the Eurofighter in the Air Force and, moreover, it is to give a summary on the present state of the ongoing conversion planning in the Air Force.
The handover of the first Eurofighter production-type aircraft to the German government took place in Manching/Germany on 13 February 2003. Following the handover, the two-seater GT001 (German Trainer, Manufacturer’s Number 001) was transferred to the Air Force School of Engineering in Kaufbeuren/Germany on 17 February 2003 and is being used for the training of aircraft technical personnel since then. The training of the first technical contingent started directly after the handover of the aircraft and was conducted under the technical responsibility of the EADS Company. The high-quality training of project liaison officers and system engineers with the Eurofighter industry, i.e. the EADS Company in Ottobrunn and Manching, CASA in Madrid, BEA-Systems in Warton/England and ALENIA in Turin/ Italy, started already in 2002. The project liaison officers were prepared for their task to support the Air Force units to be converted right at the respective base - initially with 73rd Fighter Wing “Steinhoff” - in the different aircraft-technical fields. The system engineers of the Air Force constitute the core of specialists of the cooperative organization “Eurofighter System Support Centre” in Manching, which is operated in cooperation with the EADS Company since April 2003.
Initial flight operations with the Eurofighter aircraft which were gradually delivered from the industrial production (final assembly) were started in Manching in early August 2003, at first with a preliminary flight certification of the aircraft and under the lead management of the Bundeswehr Technical Centre 61 for Aircraft and Aeronautical Equipment Qualification. Main goal of the initial flight operations was the training of the first ten Air Force pilots on the Eurofighter within the scope of the so-called “Service Instructor Pilot Training Program (SIPT)”. Company test pilots conducted this training of the Air Force pilot instructors with EADS taking the responsibility. The provision of the aircraft for flight operations was ensured by a team of technicians of the Bundeswehr Technical Centre 61, the combat aircraft project liaison team, the EADS and MTU companies as well as by airmen of 73rd Fighter Wing from Laage.
In doing so, the airmen of the combat aircraft project liaison team and the EADS personnel were able to contribute their own experiences from the operation of the Eurofighter prototypes. Just before that the personnel of 73rd Fighter Wing had completed the initial training at the Air Force School of Engineering in Kaufbeuren. These initial flight operations made it possible for the pilots and technicians of the Air Force to familiarize themselves with the aircraft and to gather first, very basic experiences with the complex new technology of the weapon system.
The build-up of the national maintenance capacities was affected in parallel with the initial flight operations in close cooperation with the EADS and MTU companies by the establishment of the cooperative organizations “Eurofighter Cooperation Cell”, “Cooperative Model Engine”, and “Eurofighter System Support Centre”. At first, both the staff of the companies and the military personnel defined conjointly within the predetermined scope of the international weapon system support processes the internal procedures within these new organizations.
Based on the capabilities of these cooperative organizations and by the active integration of the project liaison officers in the initial flight operations it was possible at an early time already to gain substantial experiences for the beginning of the so-called “first flight operations” in 73rd Fighter Wing in Laage.
After completion of the training of the first ten Air Force pilot instructors and the granting of the flight certificate for operation in the Air Force, the flight operations at the industrial location of Manching ended according to schedule; the Eurofighters were transferred from Manching to 73rd Fighter Wing in Laage at the end of April 2004.
The Air Force has been operating the weapon system in these first regular flight operations very successfully on its own responsibility for more than a year now. Use of the Eurofighter was thus made for the first time under conditions, rules and procedures of the Air Force in the “in-service” and operational responsibility of the Air Force Materiel Command. Unlike in the user nations of Great Britain, Italy, and Spain this occurs without a comprehensive industrial support. The Air Force will thus undoubtedly be assigned a certain key role within the quadrinational framework in respect to the assessment of the serviceability and employability of the weapon system with the force.
Up to now, major tasks within the scope of the first regular flight operations were the implementation of the first phase of the Eurofighter service test with aeronautical and technical elements, the validation of the flight manuals, and the establishment of training readiness for the beginning of the general flying training of the Air Force pilots with the Eurofighter weapon system.
The first ten pilot instructors trained in the “Service Instructor Pilot Training” during the initial flight operations in Manching were at first mainly employed in carrying out the aeronautical part of the Eurofighter service test. Meanwhile, these tasks were possible to be almost completely fulfilled; the Phase 1 service test was successfully completed in April 2005.
Based on the result of this service test and the certification of the “functional readiness and operational safety”, the serviceability and employability in the force was declared for the basic procedures within the scope of air defence by the Director of Air Force Armament on 27 April 2005. The preconditions for continued flying training in the Air Force are thus met.
The results of the Phase 1 service test show that the Air Force has now with the Eurfighter a highly agile, extremely efficient combat aircraft which is very good to handle and which has a high performance potential. From an aeronautical point of view the design and optimisation of the cockpit as a special “man-machine-interface” is assessed as very positive.
Particularly convincing in technical respects is the remarkably ease of maintenance especially in the exchange of system components and modules and the optimised IT support of the technicians in fault detection and troubleshooting by use of the fully automatic testing procedure integrated in the weapon system.