Royal Air Force Tornadoes Are Retired From Service

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Panavia GR.4 of the Royal Air Force

By the time you read this article, the RAF’s workhorse Tornado GR.4/GR.4A attack jets will have flown all but their final few hours of their forty year service.. Having a lineage that dates back to the 1960s, the long-serving variable geometry winged fighter-bomber was produced by a consortium of nations, and has flown operationally in the service of four countries… Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Great Britain.

The concept of a multi role combat aircraft (MRCA) originally brought a crowd of countries together. At one time or another, Belgium, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, West Germany and Great Britain all entered discussions about the joint production of an attack aircraft and/or a fighter. Sometimes it was powered by a single engine, sometimes with a pair. In the end, a twin-engined design was finalized, carrying a pilot and a weapons systems operator in tandem. A trio of versions were produced… an Interdiction Strike (IDS) version, an Electronic Combat and Reconnaissance (ECR) version, and the Tornado Air Defense Variant (ADV).

TORNADO GR.1 (2)

Panavia Tornado GR.1

The multi-national partnership company which built the new jets was known as Panavia GmbH. Three companies in the three countries which originally adopted the final design – British Aerospace (Great Britain), MBB ( at that time in West Germany), and Aeritalia (Italy). The prototype first flew during the summer of 1974,  but became operational in RAF service well after that… still forty years ago.

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Panavia Tornado GR.4

The Trinational Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE) stood up at RAF Cottesmore in July, 1980 to train the three country’s pilots in both variants. The Saudi Arabian jets would follow with a later order. Germany operated the IDS and ECR versions, Italy and the RAF procured both IDS and ADV models early in the program, and later, Saudi Arabia began operating both ADV and ADV versions too.  

The Tornado replaced Avro Vulcan and English Electric Canberra bombers, and Lightning interceptors in Royal Air Force Service. 

The Tornado is capable of Mach 1.3  and can carry a wide assortment of weapons, and is equipped with an internally mounted 27mm cannon. The RAF’s final versions, the GR.4 and GR.4A have similar capabilities; the GR.4A is an upgraded GR.1A variant with improved infra-red reconnaissance capabilities, which were  incorporated in further GR.4 rebuilt airframes.

Today, Germany, Italy and Saudi Arabia still operate their Tornado variants, with no planned retirements other than a slow drawdown of the number of aircraft in operational status. 

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Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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