Panavia Tornado

In the 1960s, many European countries were already working on studies destined to identify a new generation fighter-bomber, which could replace a number of legacy aircraft.

West Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Canada created the “F-104 Replacement Group”, whose task was that to study the successor of the F-104G in the attack mission, while the UK has the need to replace its old Camberras and V-bombers. The British, has tried to do this alone, creating the BAC TRS.2, and ambitious project for an extraordinary strike bomber, which however had to be cancelled, due to its complexity and high costs. Other programs cancelled in that period were the BAC P.45, and the Anglo-French Variable Geometry (AFVG). In these projects, the British industry had gained a lot of know-how, especially in the variable geometry wing, in the new turbofan technology, and in new avionics, and this led to invite it to participate in the F-104 Replacement Group. When it was clear the there could be the possibility to join all the requisites, in October 1968 the UK was invited to join the group, that was re-named “Multi Role Aircraft for 1975”. Canadians and Belgians retired in the same period. The only country that completed a deep study about the requisites of the new aircraft was the UK, the document was completed in 1968 and of course influenced a lot the development of the MRA75 project, later called MRCA, adding a C for Combat. The study examined especially the positive and negative aspects of having one or two engines, one or two aircrew members, and fixed or variable geometry wing. The MRCA had to be a multi-role, able to fulfil air-to-ground as well as air-to-air missions; in this view, Germany was the leading country, with a requirement of 600 aircraft, followed by the UK, with 385, and by Italy, with 200. The three countries decided to create a dedicated company to manage the programme: the Panavia consortium, which was then established on 26 March 1969, and located in Germany, near Munich. The Netherlands retired from the program in June 1969, and the Panavia consortium remained formed by only three nations.

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Basically, the British from one side, and the Germans and Italians from the other, wanted two different aircraft, one for air interdiction and nuclear attack for the former, another for nuclear attack only, but also air-to-air for the latters. It was then considered the possibility to develop two variants of the same basic project, with as many as possible common features.
Fortunately, this approach was overcome, and on 14 March 1969, it was decided to proceed with one single joint configuration, approved by all the members. One month later, the aircraft was named Panavia Panther. The single-seater for Germany was designated PA100, while the two-seater received the number PA200. For the rest, the configuration was much the same, with variable geometry wing, and twin engines solution. In May 1969 the three nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding which set up the workshare levels, according to the orders to be placed. In 1970, Germany started to abandon the idea of a single seat version, realizing that all the avionics systems and the capabilities of the new aircraft were to require a heavy workload, and so the presence of two crew members. It became then clear that all the three partners were to adopt a common configuration. The MRCA was a big aircraft, optimized for air-to-ground missions. Germany and Italy understood that it was not possible to use it also in the air-to-air role, and started to consider other options, while reducing their requirement. Finally, West Germany selected the McDonnell Douglas F-4F Phantom II as an interim measure, and reduced its request for the MRCA from 600 to 410 aircraft (later reduced again to 324). Italy oriented its choice to another version of the F-104, the F-104S, and reduced its numbers from 200 to 100 units. The UK, on the contrary, remained on its 385 aircraft, all destined since the beginning to attack missions, and became the leading country within the programme. The workshare, however, remained unchanged, with a 42.5% for the German and British industries, and 15% for the Italian industries. In the UK, British Aerospace was the prime contractor, being responsible for the construction of the forward and rear fuselage sections, including fin, rudder and tailerons. In Germany, the leading industry was MBB, which had to provide the central fuselage section, while in Italy the prime contractor was Aeritalia, which had the task to produce the variable geometry wings. All these parts where then moved to reach the three assembly lines: a Turin-Caselle in Italy, at Manching in Germany, and at Warton in Great Britain, where the aircraft of each country had to be completed, checked in flight, and delivered to the local air forces.
The entire programme was led and monitored by the three Governments through the NATO MRCA Management and Production Organisation (NAMMO). In September 1969 it was established the NATO MRCA Management Agency (NAMMA), the body destined to control the programme as prime customer.

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