Our July 2012 cover photo of the Eurofighter Typhoon caught the attention of John Bock of Silverton, Oregon. He wondered, after having heard stories about airplane parts falling from the sky—“things like engine cowlings and cargo doors”—whether the Typhoon photo captured the same sort of mishap in flight.
“Note the right wingtip tank,” Bock writes. “The rear cone is gone. Another piece of falling airplane parts scattered somewhere over Europe, or was that an intentionally misplaced part?”
For the answer, we turned to Royal Air Force Wing Commander Mark Quinn, who flies Europe’s frontline fighter-intercepter. Quinn assures us that nothing was amiss in the photo. All RAF aircraft, like other military or commercial aircraft, “have to conform with strict air worthiness criteria, to prevent…parts of the airframe from detaching during flight,” he writes in an email.
The difference in the wingtips, Quinn explains, “is a result of manufacture rather than structural failure. These pods are part of the aircraft’s defensive aids sub-system, which provides electronic defence. The pod on the right wing tip houses towed radar decoys. If [the wingtip had a cap and] they were deployed, the aerodynamic cap would indeed fall from the aircraft.” That’s why that end was designed to be cap-less or flat.
The pod on the left wingtip houses electronic sensors that remain on the aircraft, so the rear of that wingtip is covered with an aerodynamic cap, Quinn writes.
So the next time you hear about falling airplane parts, you can cross the Typhoon off the list of likely suspects.