January 2011 will see the end of an aircraft that has been in RAF service since the 1960s and some of the oldest registered airframes in the UK Inventory.  Mark Graham and Steve Smith paid a visit to RAF Cranwell to report on the life of this classic airframe for AeroResource…

Hawker Siddeley Dominie T1

The origins of the Hawker Siddeley 125 (later BAe125) date back to 1961, when de Havilland began working on a new airframe, the DH.125 Jet Dragon, which was intended as a jet re-placement for the piston powered DH-104 Dove.

A year before the project began, Hawker Siddeley had bought de Havilland, but the ‘DH’ designation was used throughout development, and it wasn’t until the jet went into production, that the designation HS-125 was applied.  The first production aircraft flew on 12th February 1963, with the first delivery to a customer on 10th September 1964.

The first Dominie, XS709 flew on 30th December 1964. With a modified airframe and powered by two Rolls Royce Viper turbojets each producing 3000lbs thrust, the Dominie made an ideal platform for the RAF to train it’s weapon systems operators, navigators and air engineers.

The new Dominie T1 was almost identical to that of the original HS.125 Series 1. The cabin has six windows on the left side, but the two forward windows on the right side were blanked off due to electronic equipment racks.

It’s role…

Replacing the Varsity and Meteor in the training of fast jet navigators, the Dominie T1 entered service with No.1 Air Navigation School which was then based at Stradishall in Suffolk, with deliveries continuing until August 1966.  Being the era of the V bombers, much of the training in the Dominie took place in the high speed – high altitude environment where the V bombers operated.

The Dominie T1 operates with a crew of six, with one pilot captain, and a combination of five students and instructors. On the early Dominies, the students sat rear facing, side by side. This created an environment very much alike to the cockpit of the V bombers. This seating arrangement remained until the aircraft update in the mid 1990’s when all the seating was changed to forward facing.

Training missions included a mixture of target training, maritime patrols, high-level, medium-level and low-level flying, radar interpretation and the management of navigation systems. The high-level and medium-level sorties consisted mainly of round the country navigation exercises and often included day and night astro-navigation. The low-level sorties tended to be pre-determined routes utilizing the majority of the low-flying areas around the UK.

The Dominie remained largely unchanged until 1992 when a seriously overdue upgrade replaced the V force technology with equipment more suited to the RAF’s fast jet fleet. Marshalls of Cambridge were awarded the contract to upgrade and modernize eleven of the surviving nineteen jets, extending their life to at least 2015. One of the upgrades was the fitment of a Thorn Super Searcher radar that was fitted in the nose.  This required a twelve inch extension although aerodynamics remained unaffected by this change.

Marshalls collected the aircraft from Finningley and began work on XS728 at Cambridge in July 1992. The aircraft were all subsequently delivered to Cranwell by the end of 1996. Around this time the paint scheme was changed, this time to high conspicuity black with white upper surfaces. In 1996 the fleet saw a major upgrade courtesy of Racal and Marshall Aerospace.

The Dominie now featured new avionics and systems, with a ground mapping radar and navigational mission computer being amongst the upgrades.

No. 55 (Reserve Squadron)

No. 55 (Reserve) Squadron was formed at Castle Bromwich, Warwickshire on 27th April 1916 being equipped with Airco DH4 Biplane’s.

The inter-war year’s saw 55 Squadron in action in Turkey and Iraq where it remained until the outbreak of WWII in 1939, when it was re-equipped with Bristol Blenheim MkI’s and later Blenheim MkIV’s for the anti-shipping role.

From May 1942, the squadron used Martin Baltimore’s right up until October 1944, when after having spent almost the entire war in the desert, it was finally re-equipped with Douglas Boston’s, before eventually being disbanded in 1946.

September 1960 saw 55 Squadron re-emerge with Handley Page Victor’s at RAF Honiton. Six years later the Squadron took on an air to air refueling role, a role it continued with until the last of the Victor’s in 1993.

One notable event during this period was 55 Squadron’s involvement in the Black Buck mission providing tanker support for the Vulcan bombing raid on Port Stanley airfield.

The end of the Victor’s once again saw 55 Squadron disband before briefly being transferred to the VC-10 OCU at RAF Brize Norton.  The squadron returned in 1996, this time with Dominie T1’s of No.3 Flight Training School, RAF Cranwell.

The Future…

Sadly, the Dominie has now been withdrawn from RAF service, as of the 20 January 2011.  The cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 and a reduction in the number of Tornado GR4s has resulted in the RAF ceasing any further Weapons System Officer (formerly Navigator) training following graduation of the current course. It has also removed the requirement to train Weapons System Operators in the Sensor Operator role for the next few years.

A six ship fly-past was staged for their retirement date, which arrived back at RAF Cranwell in glorious sunshine.

The authors would like to thank Ruth Vernon, the CCO at RAF Cranwell for her assistance.