Problems with the computer systems on board the Eurofighter jet, signed into service with the RAF less than two weeks ago, could cause a "catastrophic" failure in flight, according to a confidential Ministry of Defence report leaked to former BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan.
The report contained the findings and recommendations of test pilots who had flown the jet for eight months. They concluded that the problems are so bad that the plane should not be used for complex manoeuvres, such as those in aerial combat, and should not fly in cloud without a second, experienced, pilot on board.
Not a good finding for a plane whose slogan is: "Eurofighter Typhoon. Nothing stands in its way!"
The Eurofighter is designed to be intentionally aerodynamically unstable. This makes it more agile, particularly at supersonic speeds; reduces drag; and gives it an overall increase in lift. However, this also means it can't be flown without the computerised Flight Control System.
Rather unfortunate, then, that report reveals "corruption" of the computers could make it switch from flight mode to ground mode, while the plane is flying. The report says "It is recommended as essential that the cause of this fault are investigated, understood and if necessary rectified".
"It is not surprising this report found safety concerns," a spokeswoman for the MOD told El Reg. "That is exactly what we commissioned it for. Gilligan has got the wrong end of the stick."
There is no way, the MOD says, it would release a plane for service if there were still concerns over its safety, and maintains it has dealt with all the problems identified in the report. "Safety is paramount", the spokeswoman added.
However, Gilligan cites RAF sources saying that while some of the recommendations raised by Qinetiq had been accepted, others, such as the limitation on flying in cloud, had not.
QinetiQ, the company which produced the report, said that the testing and development was an ongoing process.
The plane has been given an initial release, and the MOD has taken delivery of six aircraft which will be used for training purposes. These will be two seater planes, with the back seat being for the instrutor. The final version will be a single seater.
The Eurofighter is 15.9m long, and has a 10.35m wingspan. Its two engines, each capable of generating 20,000lbs of thrust, propel it from the ground to 35,000 feet and mach 1.5 in less than 2.5 minutes.
The jet, which is nearly four and half years late already, and £2.3bn over budget, is expected to make it into full service at RAF Conningsby in June 2006. ®