As test drives go, taking a £100m Eurofighter Typhoon out for a spin is probably as extreme as it gets. No tyre-kicking and a drive around the local Tesco car park here; this is a one-hour shakedown taking the plane to 40,000 feet, 1,200 miles per hour, and subjecting the pilot to over 9G.
Test pilots like Nat Makepeace, based at Warton, Lancashire take every Eurofighter out for the same 60-minute test flight before delivering them to customers. "It is extreme flying," says Makepeace. "We are giving the aircraft a thorough workout through all of its capabilities – at high speed and low speed and we slam the engine in a way that would not happen in normal flight."
The extreme workout includes flying upside down for 30 seconds, shutting each engine off for a minute while flying, and "slamming" the engines to maximum power from a speed so low the plane is almost falling out of the sky.
Makepeace continues: "It's a high workload flight and demanding for a pilot. It is the ultimate test drive. There's constant noise and vibration and all the time you're making notes, recording times, and moving on from test point to test point."
The Eurofighter Typhoon test flight is broken down into four stages, which we outline below.
Stage One – Slamming
This is a test where the pilot puts the jets through two 'slamming' tests, where each engine is brought to full power, 20,000 lbs of thrust, as quickly as possible. The first slam takes place on the ground, taking the plane from standstill to flying in just eight seconds, and a second test happens at 40,000 feet.
Here, the pilot slows to little more than landing speed. Barely able to stay in the air, the plane is then accelerated as quickly as possible, up to and beyond the speed of sound (770mph). During the tests the pilot listens for an abnormalities that might indicate a problem.
Stage Two – High-speed supersonic run
To test how the aircraft performs at top speed, the pilot heads to 40,000 feets then accelerates to over Mach 1.6 (1,200mph), or 1.6 times the speed of sound, twice the speed of a commercial airliner. The Eurofighter takes just over a minute to reach this speed. This test simulates a high-speed chase that might occur in a conflict zone.
Stage Three – Full stick roll
Testing the plan's stability and handling equipment, which are called upon in close-encounter dogfights the pilot drops to 10,000 feet then pushes the control stick fully to one side, causing the plane to roll 360 degrees. The pilot experiences more than 9G, taking his weight from around 80kg to over 1,000kg (including his suit and equipment).
Stage Four – Touch and go landing
Putting the landing gear through its paces, the pilot simulates an 'abort landing', where the plan comes into land, briefly touches the runway with its wheels and takes off again immediately.
Finally, the pilot comes into land again, then stamps on the wheel brakes as hard as possible, testing the anti-lock system, and deploys the parachute to simulate landing on a very short runway or an aircraft carrier.