The Royal Air Force has experimented with many different styles of trainers, from the retired front-line types such as the Avro 504 of WW1 to modern training systems where the actual jet aircraft is only part of a complex package involving dedicated aircraft simulators, ground school instruction and even line maintenance personnel.
Mid-way through the 1930s it was realized that superannuated WW1 types like the Avro 504 and the Bristol Fighter were just not good enough. The de Havilland Tiger Moth, a modified version of the most successful light aircraft of the period proved challenging enough for ab initio pilots, who were being recruited in incresing numbers, as the British Government recognized with alarm that Hitler was not going to be appeased, and Europe was headed towards war, again.
Postwar the old Tigers struggled on, until replaced by the Percival Prentice. The Percival Aircraft Co. Ltd (later Hunting Percival) were a successful aircraft manufacturers, based at Luton Airport north of London. However, due to a strange Air Ministry specification for a side-by-side trainer, capable of carrying a SECOND trainee in a seat behind the other two crew 'so they could watch proceedings' (they had no controls), the resulting aircraft was likely NOT to be a great one. Actually, the Prentice was close to being an underpowered disaster, with major alterations to fin/rudder and elevators, and a weird aerodynamic fix to the wingtips. It replaced the Tiger Moth in 1947 and was withdrawn in 1953 - a very short life for a basic trainer!
Within a year of the Prentice entering service, the Air Ministry listened to the numerous complaints from RAF sources, and issued a new trainer specification, T.16/48. Percival had seen the writing on the wall, and had already been working a TWO-seat next generation trainer, designed by Henry Millicer, under the project number P.56. Since the RAF was still wedded, at this time, to the side-by-side mode of instruction, the P.56 was wider than other contemporary trainers, but still a handsome machine. The first flight took place in February, 1950.
The other machine built to the specification was the H.P.R.2, a project which Handley Page inherited when they took over Miles Aircraft. Both aircraft were powered by the Armstrong Siddeley Cheetah XVIII of 450 hp, and they were 'flown off' against each other, at the RAF's experimental establishment at Boscombe Down. The H.P.R.2 lost out partially because it appeared to have some aerodynamic difficulties (the RAF had had enough of that with the Prentice) and partially because Percival's had taken the precaution of building another prototype with the more powerful Alvis Leonides 25 radial of 550 hp. The RAF order the latter version as the Provost T.1
The Provost was relatively quick (200 mph), with a sturdy fixed undercarriage and well harmonized controls. Issued to the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, Elementary Flying Schools, some University Air Squadrons, and the Central Flying School (then located at RAF South Cerney) the Provost was so well thought of that many of the training units formed their own display teams (usually a four-ship). Export orders flowed in from the Burmese Air Force, who ordered an armed version, for weapon training, as did Sultanate of Oman's Air Force, the Irish Air Corps, the Royal Rhodesian Air Force and others. Eventually, total production ran to 431; it was a very well regarded aircraft.
The aircraft you can see here is painted all-over light grey, with yellow 'trainer bands', wearing the light blue/dark blue fuselage band of the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, and adorned with a lightning flash insignia, with a four-ship formation logo at the end of it. Eventually a jet-powered development, the Jet Provost, gave the RAF what it really wanted - 'all-through' jet training, and its 330 Piston Provosts were retired.
The RAF had withdrawn its last Provosts - from the Central Air Traffic Control School at RAF Shawbury, in 1969 - when the aircraft finally went to war. A rebellion in the Dhofar region of the Sultanate of Oman brought its tiny air force into action. The Provost was its only available COIN aircraft. Not heavily armed, and with its engine running VERY hot during the desert summer months, it did what it could during the late 1960s. Total weapons load was 2 x .303 Browning machineguns, and 8 x 25lb bombs and 4 x 80mm Swiss-made SURA 80R air-to-ground rockets. Amazingly, they actually did some damage and, flown by ex-RAF pilots flying for the Sultan, they kept rebel heads down during engagements by friendly troops on the ground. They were replaced by the Jet Provost and its armed development, the Strikemaster.
Oh, and the guy in the Provost's cockpit? I sort of think you might have a good idea on that one! ;)