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1994: Maiden flight for future fighter jet
The troubled European Fighter Aircraft has made its inaugural flight two years later than expected.

The jet successfully completed airborne system and handling checks in a 40-minute flight at Manching in Germany.

Eurofighter, which is the most expensive combat aircraft built in Europe, was developed by a consortium of British Aerospace Defence, Dasa in Germany, Alenia in Italy. Casa in Spain headed the 32bn project.

Britain is expected to pay 12bn of this cost.

This is a significant milestone
Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind

The two-year delay came after technical hold-ups during development, such as finalising the sophisticated computerised flight control system.

Germany is rumoured to have threatened to pull out unless costs of the jet were reduced and the design made simpler.

It is reported Britain was the driving force that convinced the European partners the jet was vital for their defence.

Defence Secretary Malcolm Rifkind said: "This is a significant milestone in the development programme of an aircraft that will form the backbone of the Royal Air Force's capability."

The 28m jet will replace the RAF's Jaguar and Tornado F3 squadrons and an estimated 40,000 British jobs are said to rely on the production of this warplane.

The 1,370mph fighter has been designed to compete with the world's most modern warplanes.

Features of the Eurofighter include a target display on the pilot's visor, voice-activated computer system and radar.

It is designed to be a "highly agile multi-role aircraft" which is capable of ground-attack as well as its priority air defence role.

The RAF plans to take 250 aircraft and, if production decisions are made next year as expected, delivery will begin from the year 2000.

The manufacturers say the plane will be the world's most advanced fighter aircraft when it finally takes off.

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European Fighter Aircraft
The project is costing 32bn

In Context
Plans for the Eurofighter were first conceived in 1983 in response to the political climate at the time several years before the end of the Cold War.

Hopes for a 2000 launch date were dashed and some observers said the technology would be out of date by the time it takes off.

Some critics have said the jet has underperformed in trials - an allegation which is rejected by manufacturers.

Funding difficulties for the project, which has gone largely over budget, were only resolved in 1997.

The project was renamed several times since its inception and has been called EFA (European Fighter Aircraft), Eurofighter, EF2000 (Eurofighter 2000), and more recently Typhoon.

The fighter plane is in competition with two other rival projects - the US-made Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, and the French multi-role combat fighter Rafale.

Austria bought 18 Typhoons in 2003 and two years later Saudi Arabia announced it would buy an unspecified amount. South Korea and Singapore have decided not to buy the aircraft. Only the American F-22 will be superior when it comes on stream, perhaps by 2010, at more than twice the price.

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