During the early eighties it was apparent that the RAF would need a replacement for the Jet Provost basic trainer being used in flying training schools. Various factors including cost, performance and stepped tandem seating and similar cockpit design to the Hawk were required.
But with an in-service date set for 1989, the aircraft ordered would likely be an existing type, rather than a new design. In 1984 a short list of four aircraft types had been prepared with each of the companies involved establishing partnerships with UK manufacturers in order to meet the programme requirements.
Shorts and Brazilian manufacturer Embraer submitted a proposal for a modified version of the Embraer Tucano with a more powerful Garret engine, finally winning against the
Embraer flew the first RAF-standard aircraft, PP-ZTC (the seventh airframe off the production line) from Sao dos Campos, Brazil on February 14th 1986 and having completed six flights, the aircraft was dismantled and shipped to Belfast to fulfil both trials and pattern airframe roles. Its first flight, carrying B class markings G-14-007 was made on April 11th with the aircraft achieving a sea level speed of 308mph. The aircraft was subsequently registered G-BTUC and flown as a demonstration aircraft at the Farnborough and Paris air shows that year.
The first production Tucano ZF135 flew on December 30th 1986, with the official roll out taking place on January 20th 1987 before the aircraft was delivered to the A&AAE Boscombe Down for evaluation. Delivery to the RAF took place on September 1st 1988 when ZF135 was delivered to the Central Flying School at Scampton.
The Tucano was the last ever Shorts built aircraft before the company was bought by Bombardier, and the last complete aircraft to be produced in Northern Ireland. 130 were delivered to the RAF, 16 to Kuwait and 12 to Kenya.
G-BTUC continued to be flown as a demonstrator until August 1991 when its permit to fly expired. Placed in storage at Sydenham, the aircraft remained there for the next ten years before being offered to the Ulster Aviation Society and moved by road to join the collection.
Photo courtesy of Bombardier Aerospace
BAE/ Pilatus partnership in March 1985. The significant modifications to the design included the engine with much increased power to improve speed and rate of climb, a ventral air-brake, structural strengthening and new cockpit layout. An optional provision for armament and strike capability was also to be provided.