RAF Typhoon Eurofighters have taken off for the first time on an active mission armed with the latest-generation Meteor air-to-air missiles that are capable of flying at over Mach 4 (2,967 mph, 4,775 km/h). The supersonic fighter aircraft lifted off from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland on Monday during a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) mission to intercept an undisclosed airspace incursion.

QRA is a NATO term for a condition for maintaining an around-the-clock readiness against aerial threats. The RAF maintains a QRA for every hour of the year from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland and RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, England. At these locations, ground crews and pilots remain at full readiness in the Crew Ready Room located next to their eight to 12 Typhoon aircraft housed in specially hardened "Q" sheds.

If an unknown aircraft enters British airspace, the squadron scrambles and gets into the air as fast as possible to intercept the unknown, identify it, and take appropriate action, whether this means escorting it away or shooting it down. In recent years, the RAF has been called on several times to intercept Russian bombers that have revived the Cold War practice of probing NATO defenses.

Because such interceptor missions may include distant targets that may be flying supersonic, missiles like the new Meteor are especially important. Built by MBDA in Stevenage, the Meteor is the product of a six-nation, British-led consortium and is currently entering service in Britain, France, and Sweden.

Costing £2 million (US$2.5 million) each, the Meteor missiles are designed to fit on the Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, and the Saab JAS 39 Gripen. They are also being modified to fit the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. They're classed as the next-generation of Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) that can operate in all weather against a variety of targets, including fast jets, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, and cruise missiles.

Each missile weighs in at 419 lb (190 kg) and is 12 ft (3.7 m) long. They are capable of flying at over four times the speed of sound thanks to a throttleable ducted rocket/ramjet combination that allows them to fly under thrust right up to the target at ranges beyond 62 mi (100 km). According to MBDA, this, combined with its active radar, gives the Meteor the largest No-Escape Zone of any air-to-air missile. The kill shot is a high explosive blast-fragmentation warhead with both proximity and impact fuses.

In addition, the Meteor has an inertial guidance system and a data link that allows it to home in on a target using third-party data.

"The responsibility of flying such a capable platform, armed with this formidable weapon is immense, but the options this gives us in responding to an emergency situation cannot be understated," said the pilot who flew the first Meteor-equipped Typhoon.

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