Percival Provost

The Percival P.56 Provost was a British ab initio trainer that was developed for the Royal Air Force in the 1950s as a replacement for the Percival Prentice. It was a low-wing, monoplane with a fixed, tailwheel undercarriage and had an unusual side-by-side seating arrangement. The Provost has the distinction of being the last piston-engine basic trainer aircraft to be operated by the RAF.

The Provost was later adapted to make use of a turbojet engine, producing the BAC Jet Provost. The type was withdrawn in the 1960s, in favour of its jet-powered successor.

Percival Provost
Class Aircraft
Type Trainer
Manufacturer Hunting Aircraft
Production Period 1950 - 1956
Origin United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain)
Country Name Origin Year
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1950
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Burma View
Iraq View
Ireland View
Malaysia View
Oman (Muscat) View
Sudan View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) 1953 1969 View
Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Hunting Aircraft 1950 1956 461 View

The Provost design is attributed to the Polish-born Aeronautical Engineer, Henry Millicer. Millicer later moved to Australia where he also designed the award winning Victa Airtourer light aircraft. The Provost was designed to Air Ministry specification T.16/48 for a single-engined basic trainer aircraft to meet Operational Requirement 257 for a Percival Prentice replacement. The specification was issued on 11 September 1948 and the ministry received over 30 proposals for consideration. Two designs were chosen for prototype construction, the Handley Page H.P.R 2 and the Percival P.56. Percival was given a contract dated 13 January 1950 to build two Cheetah powered prototypes. The company also built a third prototype with an Alvis Leonides Mk 25 engine.

The Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah powered prototype serial number WE522 first flew on 24 February 1950. After evaluation against the H.P.R 2 at Boscombe Down, the Leonides powered P.56 was selected for production as the Provost T.1, with an initial order for 200 aircraft being placed on 29 May 1951. Production ended in 1956 when 461 aircraft had been completed. The Percival Provost eventually formed the basis for the Jet Provost trainer which replaced it in RAF service.

The Provost was an all-metal single-engined two-seat monoplane, it had fixed conventional landing gear with a fully castoring tailwheel. Production aircraft were powered by a single 550 hp (410 kW) Alvis Leonides 25 radial piston engine, the Provost was twice as powerful as the preceding Percival Prentice. In terms of flying performance, the Provost had a roll rate and handling similar to the best fighters upon entering service, it was also known for its rapid rate of climb and generous power provision from its engine. The type was designed to be easy to maintain, various components are intentionally interchangeable where possible and there was a generous provision of access hatches across the fuselage.

The Provost was developed in order to provide training better suited to the increasingly complicated operational aircraft that were then being brought into service. To suit the training mission, the two seats in the cockpit were side-by-side so that the instructor could be alongside their student for close observation and to demonstrate flight procedures; a third seat had been specified for an observer, but this was later omitted following little use. The three-piece canopy was designed for good crash-worthiness qualities and to facilitate blind flying training in daylight via extendable amber screens and blue-tinted goggles to restrict the pupil's forward vision; the cockpit was also equipped with various approach aids to enable operations in a greater range of weather conditions and to undertake night training. The complexity of the cockpit was a deliberate choice, contrary to earlier trainer aircraft which were simplified so students would find it easy to fly, the Provost was designed so that beginners were exposed to an advanced environment more akin to the varied tasks of aircraft operations.


  • Percival P.56 Mark 1 : Two prototypes with Cheetah engines for evaluation; both later fitted with Leonides engines.
  • Percival P.56 Mark 2 : One Leonides-engined prototype for evaluation.
  • Provost T.Mk 1 : Two-seat, Leonides-powered basic trainer for the Royal Air Force.
  • Provost T.51 : Unarmed export version for the Irish Air Corps.
  • Provost Mk 52 :  Armed export version for the Rhodesian Air Force and Sultanate of Oman.
  • Provost Mk 53 :  Armed export version for Burma, Iraq, Ireland and Sudan. 

The Provost entered service with the RAF in 1953 with the first batch of aircraft delivered to the Central Flying School (CFS) at RAF South Cerney. The CFS carried out intensive flight trials in May and June 1953 before instructor training commenced. The Provost was more capable than the Prentice it replaced which allowed the students to move straight on to the De Havilland Vampire after training on the Provost. On 1 July 1953 6 Flying Training School at RAF Ternhill started to re-equip with the Provost. The first pupil training course to use the Provost started in October 1953. No. 22 Flying Training School at RAF Syerston was the next to convert and it was followed by 2 FTS at RAF Cluntoe, Northern Ireland, 3 FTS at RAF Feltwell and then the Royal Air Force College at RAF Cranwell.

From 1956 the Provost was issued to some University Air Squadrons, with the first being the Queen's University Air Squadron, Belfast in January 1956. The last RAF production aircraft was delivered in April 1956. The aircraft served with the RAF until the early 1960s, when it was replaced by the Jet Provost. A few Provosts continued in service during the 1960s with the Central Navigation & Control School (later Central Air Traffic Control School) at RAF Shawbury until the last example was retired in 1969. Several retired airframes were renumbered with maintenance serials and used for training of airframe and engine tradesmen. At least five Percival Provost have survived as civilian aircraft.


The first export order was placed in May 1953 by Southern Rhodesia for four T.1 aircraft which were designated the T.51. Later the Royal Rhodesian Air Force followed with an order for twelve armed trainers designated the T.52 which were delivered in 1955.

In January 1954 the Irish Air Corps ordered four T.51 aircraft and in 1960 a further order for six armed T.53 variants. The Burmese Air Force also ordered 12 armed T.53 variants in 1954 and eventually operated 40 aircraft.

In May 1957 the newly formed Sudan Air Force ordered four T.53 armed variant, two were lost in accidents shortly after delivery, a further three were bought in 1959 followed by five former RAF aircraft.

Former RAF aircraft were delivered to Royal Air Force of Oman as armed T.52 variants. In 1955 the Royal Iraqi Air Force ordered 15 armed Provost T.53s with the first delivered in May 1955. The final export customer was the Royal Malaysian Air Force who obtained 24 T.51 trainers between 1961 and 1968.

In 1968 Rhodesia obtained further aircraft using a convoluted route to get around an arms embarago.

Role Military trainer aircraft
Manufacturer Percival
Designer Henry Millicer
First flight 24 February 1950
Introduction 1953
Retired 1969
Primary users Royal Air Force
Burma Air Force
Iraqi Air Force
Irish Air Corps
Produced 1950-1956
Number built 461
Developed into BAC Jet Provost

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 28 ft 6 in (8.73 m)
  • Wingspan: 35 ft 0 in (10.7 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 0 in (3.70 m)
  • Wing area: 214 ft² (19.9 m²)
  • Empty weight: 3,350 lb (1,523 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 4,399 lb (1,995 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Alvis Leonides 126 9-cylinder radial engine, 550 hp (410 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 200 mph (170 knots, 320 km/h) at sea level
  • Range: 560 nm (650 mi, 1,020 km)
  • Endurance: 4 hours
  • Service ceiling: 25,000 ft (7620 m)
  • Rate of climb: 2,200 ft/min (11.2 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 20.6 lb/ft² (100 kg/m²)
  • Power/mass: 0.276 hp/lb (0.206 kW/kg)
  • Climb to 10,000 ft 3.27 minutes


  • for T.52 and T.53 - 2 x 7.62mm machine guns, 500lbs. of bombs or rockets.

End notes