15% DISCOUNT

Jaguar Lands on M55

The day a Jaguar landed on the M55 motorway – on purpose

THE ability to land an aeroplane on what could be described as an unorthodox surface has been essential in the development of aircraft for over a century, arguably dating back to when Eugene Ely guided his Curtiss Model D biplane on to the USS Pennsylvania moored in San Francisco Bay, on January 18, 1911, the ship fitted with a temporary wooden deck.

In more recent times vertical take-off and landing, VTOL, aircraft took aviation technology to a new level, jets that could land on a patch of land that merely had to have the capability to take the aircraft’s weight. These were seen as crucial during the first Cold War, with military planning including how to utilise aircraft following a nuclear attack that would lead to widespread destruction – jets that could be dispersed and that didn’t require a runway to operate could potentially give one side an edge in any conflict.

With that in mind, it was on April 26, 1974 that the M55 motorway between Preston and Blackpool was handed the role of landing strip, located a few miles from what was then the British Aircraft Corporation, BAC, manufacturing site at Warton, where they had one or two Jaguar jets available for testing.

Jaguar XX109 now at City of Norwich Aviation Museum

(Jaguar XX109 now at City of Norwich Aviation Museum - 📸 Alan Wilson)

With the RAF already possessing the Harrier jump jet for VTOL, the Jaguar’s capabilities for use on non-conventional runways needed exploring, with BAC explaining: “The purpose of the flight was to demonstrate the Jaguar’s ability to land on unorthodox landing strips away from main airbases under wartime conditions — a key feature of the jet’s design.”

The test pilot handed the task was Tim Ferguson, the company utilising an unopened section of the westbound motorway, a third of the width of the runway at Warton, to make a series of landings and take-offs. A first overshoot of the landing strip was undertaken by Ferguson to gauge just what was required before he returned to execute a perfect landing on the road – the distant required was just over 400 yards, with the assistance of a braking parachute.

The jet that arrived on the M55 only had a centreline tank fitted, so it was turned around, refuelled and loaded with four cluster bomb units before taking off again, around 600 yards of motorway required to complete the reverse operation fully loaded.

Ferguson stated that the trials threw up no major problems, the aircraft required to make a steep approach and high angle landing but due to the excellent steering and handling of the Jaguar, Ferguson did not see the manoeuvres as overly complicated. Thankfully, film footage of the event was taken, with an enthusiastic Lancashire crowd watching on as Ferguson guided the GR1, XX109, to its target landing strip.

Ferguson’s flying story began in 1950 when he joined the RAF as an 18-year-old, and after being demobbed he flew with No. 603 Squadron (City of Edinburgh) Royal Auxillary Air Force. He took up the role as a production test pilot with what was English Electric in 1955, and after working with the Lightning he was also involved with Tornado testing as well as his work with the Jaguar, along with David Eagles flying the Tornado P.03, XX947, on its maiden flight in August 1975.

He was awarded the Derry & Richards Memorial Medal 1976/77, presented to test pilots who have made an outstanding contribution in advancing the art and science of aviation, for his high-incidence and spinning experimental work, retiring from test flying in 1979.

But it wasn’t just Ferguson’s work that showed the capabilities of the Jaguar, with testing of how jets could be dispersed during wartime if their home airfield was severely damaged extending beyond British borders: four RAF Germany Jaguars of No. 31 Squadron from Brüggen were operated from a section of the newly-constructed autobahn between Bremen and Bremerhaven in September 1977, along with a number of other NATO aircraft.

It was 44 years later in 2021 that the RAF announced it would be undertaking snap exercises that would see its jets operating from both civilian runways and even “strips of motorway” as parts of plans for dispersed operations, with fears that in the event of any conflict with Russia, the UK’s fighter stations would be likely targets.

The Agile Stance campaign plan comprised a series of operations to test the RAF’s ability to relocate rapidly from their home stations to make it more difficult for the enemy to target them in a pre-emptive strike. The initial exercise conducted in autumn 2021 was Agile Launch, with events in Ukraine over the last 14 months intensifying the need for pro-active thinking when it comes to the UK’s air defences.

In July 2021, Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, admitted that practising landing jets on motorways could be an option, telling the Daily Telegraph: “We’ll be re-learning how to disperse,” before adding that if “the arsenal [of advanced cruise missiles] Putin has been bragging about” were moved to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, “we’d be in range.” Kaliningrad is sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea.

As yet, there have been no reports of sections of the M1 being closed for Typhoons to test out their landing and take-off skills, but as the saying goes: never say never.

Other Articles You May Also Enjoy

83 Squadron
83 Squadron
Missing crew members from No. 83 Squadron finally found as Lancaster bomber is recovered
Read More
Gloster Javelin
Gloster Javelin
The short-lived jet that was the last to bear the famous Gloster name
Read More
RAF in Hertfordshire
RAF in Hertfordshire
For a county that skirts the northern sector of England’s capital city, Hertfordshire could be described as being a litt
Read More
RAF Leeming
RAF Leeming
Leeming still key to the nation’s air defences more than 80 years after its first squadrons arrived
Read More
42 Squadron
42 Squadron
Déjà vu as ‘Roxy’ takes command on the return to duty for No. 42 Squadron
Read More
RAF Waddington
RAF Waddington
Waddington welcomes its first Protector as the station expands its ISTAR force
Read More
RAF in Buckinghamshire
RAF in Buckinghamshire
Buckinghamshire had great military significance during WW2, both in flying and strategic terms, due to its location clos
Read More
Gazelle
Gazelle
RAF Shawbury among the sites privileged with a flypast as the Gazelle says a final farewell
Read More

Leave a comment