EIGHTEEN RAF TORNADO F.3s have been effectively grounded following the discovery of serious airframe damage after servicing by a private contractor. The MoD contracted out airframe modification work to increase the fatigue index of the RAF’s 97 Tornado F.3s and the first contract for 15 aircraft with BAe has already been satisfactorily completed.
The second contract for 18 aircraft was won by Airwork Services which undercut BAe’s bid of £11 million by £4 million.
The Mod has now cancelled the contract but it may cost up to £6 million per aircraft to rectify the damage.
Work on the aircraft was carried out at RAF St Athon and local MP Rhodri Morgan reported on June 4 that, due to delays in completing the contract, Airwork’s locally recruited staff began using ‘wholly inappropriate’ tools for the work.
It is alleged that longerons were distorted when pneumatic guns, of the type used to remove car wheels, were used to remove light alloy collars covering the nuts and bolts holding panels to the longerons, causing the collars to be virtually chiselled off.
Damage was first discovered by RAF maintenance personnel when pilots reported problems with the first four aircraft returned to operational squadrons. Tests were carried out on the remaining 14 aircraft at St Athan where it was found that 12 were seriously damaged and two superficially damaged.
Officials from Panavia partner, DASA, inspected the aircraft in late May and were said to be horrified at what they saw, suggesting that the 12 worst aircraft may have to be returned to Germany for their centre fuselages to be rebuilt in the original jigs in order to restore structural strength.
The four aircraft already delivered, ZE292, ZE295, ZE343 and ZE728, have returned to St Athan for repairs.