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RAF Typhoons launched from RAF Lossiemouth this morning for the first time with the Meteor Air-to-Air missile in defence of UK airspace during a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) mission.

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This event represents the culmination of many years of research, development and testing to bring this advanced weapon into service on front-line aircraft.

RAF Typhoons maintain a constant state of readiness to defend the sovereignty of British skies. The introduction of Meteor brings a new and innovative long-range capability and further enhances Typhoon’s already potent arsenal. This year they have been scrambled for a variety of incidents including intercepting Russian bombers approaching UK airspace.

“This latest missile system demonstrates the next chapter of the Typhoon which will see the jet evolve its ability to target and destroy any airborne threat at great distances. The Meteor missile will provide an unrelenting deterrence to those who wish harm upon the UK and our Armed Forces.

“The RAF’s prized Typhoon Force is unquestionably now the cornerstone of British and NATO military power. It has proved itself in combat roles over Libya, Iraq and Syria, protecting UK skies and overseas territories, and providing critical support to our NATO Allies in Eastern Europe.”

Gavin Williamson
Defence Secretary

 

“RAF Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon fighters are now armed with the most advanced Air to Air missile in the world, the MBDA developed ramjet powered Meteor. Another huge leap forward in capability for the Typhoon Force, which is proud to continue defending the UK and our allies, 24/7.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier
Chief of the Air Staff

 

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The missile system is a worthy investment as it can fly in any weather condition, perform against all current and known future threats; including combat aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles/missiles and will eventually operate from the F-35 Lightning aircraft. Crucially, the Meteor and launch aircraft will be networked by a datalink ensuring highly accurate and intelligent air strikes.

The pilot flying the first Meteor equipped Typhoon said:

“The responsibility of flying such a capable platform, armed with this formidable weapon is immense, but the options this gives us in responding to an emergency situation cannot be understated.”

 

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What is a Ramjet?

A ram-jet engine is a form of air-breathing jet that relies upon the forward movement of the engine to force air at pressure into a combustion chamber. It has no moving parts such as a rotating compressor, or the turbine blades that you see on a passenger jet engine at an airport. However, it is clear tht they cannot work when at a standstill – so they need to be moving quite fast before the “ram effect” can work. For this reason, they need to be started once moving, when attached to a platform such as an aircraft travelling at high speed, at which point the ramjet can start to produce enough thrust to leave its launch vehicle. That is to say, once its engine is firing, it can pull away from the launch-aircraft at speeds of between almost 2,500mph and 4,600mph.

Ramjets are typically high-speed, short-burn engines, making them ideal for missiles. Experiments are being carried out to use them as rocket-assists for artillery shells, and also on various strange applications such as engines mounted on the tips of helicopter blades to give them additional rotary-thrust (though not very successfully, it has to be said).

Science usually gets in the way of any “perfect” solution to a problem and the ramjet is no exception. The faster it goes, the more the air is heated as it is compressed when forced into the burner chamber. When the incoming air starts to reach the same temperature as the burning fuel/air mix, the amount of thrust tails off and the jet reaches a state of “equilibrium”; that is to say, a speed above which it will simply not go. And so the clever chaps in the R&D labs try to reduce the increase in the incoming air-temperature by making the inlet chamber more efficient, using smart designs. And that is about all there is to a ramjet engine!

 

Article: Crown copyright press release and images of typhoon, with TMT tech-comment  on ramjet technology.

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