HomeReviewsFeaturesRoyal Air Force retires the Tornado.

Royal Air Force retires the Tornado.

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The Royal Air Force will officially retire the iconic Tornado GR.4 Bomber today after nearly 40 years of remarkable operations, making it the first air force to retire the twenty ton bomber.

Back in the 70’s Italy, United Kingdom and West Germany at that time, jointly developed and manufactured the Panavia 200, a variable-sweep wing multi-role aircraft. The Tornado or as nicknamed by the British ‘Tonka’ was developed and build by Panavia Gmbh a consortium made up of three major aircraft manufacturing companies, Aeritalia of Italy, British Aerospace and MBB in West Germany.

Tornado GR.1 of TTTE leaving RAF Fairford 27th July 1998 after participating for the Royal International Air Tattoo. Photo: Joseph Borg
Photo: Joseph Borg

The first RAF Tornado entered service on 1st July 1980 with the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE) at RAF Cottesmore. After nearly two years No. IX (B) was the first RAF front line squadron to converted to the Tornado GR.1 making it the first Tornado front line squadron in the world. Soon after No.IX (B), the famous No. 617 Squadron commonly known as the “Dambusters” and No. 27 Squadron converted to the Tornado. Most of RAF Tornado fleet saw various Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) from GR.1/GR.1A and later to GR.4/GR.4A. The RAF also operated a large number of Tornado F.3s that were retired eight years ago.

In the 2017 Royal International Air Tattoo this Tornado Gr4 nicknamed ‘Pinky’ was on static display. The Special scheme ‘Pinky’ is a Desert Camouflage scheme to mark 25 years of operations to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s Forces. Photo: Paul Spiteri Lucas

RAF Tornados saw various conflicts along the years in service with it’s first combat debut during the Gulf war in 1991, when a large number of fighter and bomber Tornados deployed to bases in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia launching offensive missions against Iraqi Forces that invaded Kuwait. During the 2011 Libyan conflict, RAF deployed a number of Tornados and Typhoons to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, some Tornados flew strike missions of 4,800 KM over Libya making it longest range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict. Last January RAF launched the last operational sortie of the Tornado GR.4 from RAF Akrotiri Air Base in Cyprus were Tornados together with other RAF assets have been deployed since 2014 launching strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria as part of ‘Operation Shader’.

Photo: Joseph Borg
In 2018 the RAF celebrated its 100 years and also showcased a special flypast commemorating its 617 Bomber Squadron, with the Avro 683 Lancaster B1, Tornado Gr.4 and the F-35B Lightning II. Tornado Gr.4 ZA607 is seen here on its climb out after the flypast and some low level passes with the F-35B.
Photo: Paul Spiteri Lucas

In Malta we had quite a good number of RAF Tornado visits from various RAF Squadrons, with the first RAF Tornado GR.1s to ever touch down in Malta were a couple of XV Squadron machines for Malta International Airshow 1993. During the seven months, 2011 Libyan conflict a total of seven RAF Tornados diverted to Malta for technical reasons. The last couple of RAF Tornados that visited Malta were part of the static display for the Malta International Airshow 2017.

With the retirement of the Tornado we will miss the swept-wing run in and break over the airfield before joining in for landing and the noise of the thrust reverse buckets deployed upon landing at British Air Bases. Number IX(B) ‘The Bats’ Squadron and Number 31 Squadron ‘The Goldstars are the last two squadrons to operate the Tornado. RAF will be replacing the Tornado with the F-35B Lightning II that was declared combat ready last January.

Tornado Gr.4 ZD850 seen here departing RW13 at Malta International Airport. Diverted to Malta after declaring low on fuel while on a mission over Libya on October 18th 2011. Photo: Paul Spiteri Lucas
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