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QRA – experience and expectation

Ross Mahoney and Emmett Sullivan discuss what the ‘scramble’ meant for RAF Fighter Command in the Cold War.


We used this video step to try and address the following questions, out of the many we might have considered:

  1. The concept of the ‘scramble’ really dates from the Second World War – how different was practice with sophisticated jets?
  2. The Tornado ADF is a long endurance point defence aircraft – so why were combat air patrols were not regularly flown?
  3. AEW and the fighter force were defending UK airspace – but how much of that was to protect the public?

As ever, we would welcome your thoughts on the topic as we covered in in the video.


This step will deal with the concept of ‘Quick Reaction Alert’, which quite simply is the state of readiness that the RAF adopted in preparation for an attack, focusing on the aircraft that were on standby across Britain. Whilst it can notably be likened to the ‘scramble’ during the Second World War, its origins can be traced back to the First World War, and is indeed still something carried out today. It is important to understand however that during the Cold War, the advanced aircraft made this a much more difficult task.

Gloster Javelin

Operational primarily during the 1950s and 1960s, the Javelin was one of the RAF’s key interceptor aircrafts, yet was very much in the shadow of its superior, the Lightning.

English Electric Lightning

For most of the Cold War, the Lightning was the RAF’s leading fighter aircraft. It was an incredibly quick interceptor, but lacked endurance, which was why in-flight refuelling became so important.

Tornado Air Defence Variant

Not as good at air-to-air fighting in comparison with the Javelin or Lightning, but had much longer endurance, which made it better for monitoring airspace and maritime patrol. This was a development from the Tornado Interdictor/Strike aircraft.

Eurofighter Typhoon

One of the leading aircraft in the world still today, its development actually began in the 1980s to deal with the shortfall in close combat aircraft with a longer endurance. The Typhoon is a very agile and effective dogfighter aircraft; perfect for QRA and is still the aircraft of choice by the RAF. It has a whole website dedicated to it if you are interested in more information).

There was a notable shift in the role of QRA, moving away from the defence of the V-Force, and instead protecting Britain’s assets, its shipping capabilities and communication lines. Many interceptor aircraft were also stationed across West Germany under the QRA concept, as another line of defence not only of Britain per say, but of Britain’s interests across Europe.

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From World War to White Heat: the RAF in the Cold War

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