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Percival Provost - The RAF's Last Piston Trainer

From 1953 to 1959, 461 Percival Provosts were built, and of these, 330 were used by the RAF for standard training duties—the Provost replaced the Percival Prentice, which in turn had replaced the Tiger Moth as the standard basic trainer in 1946.

Provost ZK-JOT is shown here at the Classic Fighters 2005 airshow at Omaka Aerodrome, Blebheim, New Zealand.  Photo: © Les Bushell 2005

The need for this aircraft arose in the late 1940's as the Royal Air Force realised that their current training sequence of having noice pilots start with the Percival Prentice, and then move on to the North American Harvard, was proving inadequate for preparing pilots to move onto the jet aircraft then in use by the RAF.

A two-seat, side-by-side, low-wing monoplane aircraft with fixed landing gear, the Provost is powered by a 550hp Leonides 126 radial engine. A cruising speed of around 110 knots is achievable, and the aircraft has an endurance of at least two hours.

The (Piston) Provost remained in RAF service until they were replaced by a major revision of the design that evolved the aircraft into the Jet Provost trainer. In 1967, this aircraft evolved into the BAC Strikemaster multi-role trainer and light attack aircraft, which was used extensively by the Royal New Zealand Air Force until the late 1990's.

Other users of the Provost included the Royal Rhodesian Air Force who purchased for T.51 trainers in 1953, and then in 1955 took possession of a further T.52 armed trainer variants (which could mount both machine guns and rockets).

During the 1950s the Irish Air Corps operated ten Provosts, while the Burmese Air Force eventually operated a total of 40 examples.

The Picton Provost was the last piston engined basic trainer to be used by the RAF. The last training unit re-equipped with a jet-powered version of the design, called the Jet Provost, in August 1961 but a few Provosts lingered on until the last one was retired in November 1969.

Because of its impressive performance and versatility, when the Piston Provost was eventually replaced by the RAF many of the aircraft were sold to civilian owners and some even continue to be used for aerobatic displays and private flying today. The Piston Provost is considered a classic example of a post-World War II British military aircraft and is highly valued by aviation enthusiasts and collectors around the world.

The following video shows a Provost in the colours of the Royal Air Force of Oman. A number of former RAF aircraft were delivered to the RAFO as armed T.52 variants during the 1950s

This clip of a Provost in Omani colours is from one of our significantly remastered Classic Fighters movies, available for streaming at Historical Machines TV

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