THE END OF AN ERA – TORNADO RETURNS FROM OPERATIONS FOR THE LAST TIME
On 4 and 5 February eight Tornado aircraft returned to RAF Marham from operations for the final time. The Tornados had been deployed to RAF Akrotiri on Operation Shader since the summer of 2014
But this was the end of almost three decades of Operational deployment for the aircraft. Since taking part in the Gulf War in 1991 Tornados have been on almost continuous Operations, mostly in the Middle East but also in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
Monday’s arrival of five aircraft was a rather low key affair with the families of the crews coming to meet them at the HAS site, but Tuesday’s was a much larger event with the whole Station invited along to greet them at the VAP, which was watched by an invited group of local and national media. The plan was to have all three aircraft pull in to the VAP, the media would watch as the crews were greeted by DCom Ops, AOC 1Gp and the Station Commander, then the families would run in to greet their loved ones. This was all going great until a very short time before their arrival when an issue with one of the aircraft would mean that only two aircraft would park in front of the waiting crowd and OC IX(B) Sqn and OC 31 Sqn would get to greet their loved ones from the not quite as glamorous MT minibus!
This did not detract from the event at all, and images of OC IX(B) Sqn and his wife hugging with a Tornado (not his Tornado) in the background made the front page of The Daily Telegraph!
It is only a matter of weeks now until the Tornado retires, and by the time you are reading this many more events will have taken place to celebrate Tornado that we will show you in the next edition. Our sincere congratulations to all on the Tornado Force for ensuring all eight aircraft completed their time on deployed operations successfully and also made it home to RAF Marham on time.
Some of the kind words said about Tornado as they returned home are as follows:
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“It is with a heavy heart, but enormous pride, that we bid farewell to the Tornado from operations. This truly is the end of an era, having played a vital role in keeping Britain and its allies safe for four decades.
“But, after so long in service, it is only right that we now look to the future. The combination of our state-of-the art F35s and the Typhoon’s new weapon systems will keep us as a world leader in air combat for a generation.”
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said:
“My sincerest congratulations to the Tornado Force, returning home after more than 4 years of continuous commitment to defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria – an exceptional effort from everyone, well done and thank you.
“As a Tornado GR4 pilot myself, I have seen the aircraft develop over its nearly 40 years of service into an outstanding combat aircraft, flown, maintained and supported by similarly outstanding air and groundcrew. The Tornado Force has been continuously deployed on operations since 1990, serving with immense distinction in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and the Balkans.
“I will personally be very sad to see the Tornado retire, but it is time now to pass the baton to our next generation combat aircraft. The F-35B Lightning is now operational and the Typhoon is now fully multi-role capable and able to take on the Tornado’s missions.
“We can all take immense pride in what the Tornado has achieved in defence of the nation over nearly four decades, and reflect back on the courage, commitment and achievements of everyone who has contributed to the success of this extraordinary aircraft.”
Gp Capt Cab Townsend said:
“Having conducted 9 major operations since 1990, today sees the return of the Tornado Force from its latest operational commitment, Operation SHADER. Having flown almost 30000 flying hours and 3300 missions over Iraq and Syria over the previous 4.5 years, the Force is returning to the UK ahead of the Tornado’s retirement at the end of March 2019.
“Having served on operations continuously for almost 28 years, the Tornado Force has made an exceptional contribution to UK Defence. Today, we are celebrating the operational excellence of the Force today as the final 3 aircraft land from a 6 hour flight from Akrotiri. Throughout the life of the Tornado, sustaining her operational capability has been a combined effort of our military personnel, Civil Servants, numerous Industrial partners and, of course, our families and friends who support us so brilliantly in all that we do. As such, it is fitting that today that the whole Station, including families, are here to welcome home Tornado from what is almost certain to be her last operational tour of duty”