Aircraft

RAF Tornados Return Home From Operations For Last Time

The multirole combat aircraft is being retired from the RAF after decades of service.

RAF Tornado GR4s have returned to Britain from operations in the Middle East for the final time.

On Tuesday, the homecoming Tornados landed at RAF Marham in Norfolk, with personnel and their families watching on to celebrate the end of an era.

After four decades of service, the aircraft is being retired as the RAF moves to more advanced and modern capability.

Tornado weapon capabilities have been transferred to the Typhoon, while there are nine of the F-35B aircraft ready for operations.

The final air strikes by Tornado fighters were launched over Syria at the end of January.

Four Decades Of Service

Built by Britain, Germany and Italy to fight the Cold War, the Tornado entered service in 1979.

The jet's distinctive swept-wing design was considered cutting edge at the time and she was the first European jet to use fly-by-wire controls.

Tornado pilots get ready for take off (Picture: MOD).

Power came from two Rolls Royce RB199 engines that were able to push the Tornado to Mach 1.3.

The Tornado first saw combat in the First Gulf War where she flew low-level bombing missions in Iraq. But it came at a price - six were lost and the RAF later decided to switch to medium missions.

In 1997 the GR1 was upgraded and its successor, the GR4, was given upgraded avionics and the ability to carry cruise missiles.

The final two decades of the Tornados' working life were by far the busiest and the plane was tasked with flying thousands of sorties over Iraq and Afghanistan.

RAF Tornado leaves Cyprus for final time 050219 CREDIT MOD.jpg
A Tornado begins its journey from Cyprus to Norfolk (Picture: MOD).

By the time Tornado production ended in 1998, just short of a thousand had been built.

The rise of so-called Islamic State saw eight GR4s relocated to RAF Akrotiri where they flew daily missions over Iraq and Syria as part of Operation Shader.

Taking on much of her workload is the Typhoon, which will undergo a £2 billion investment over the next decade.

Planned upgrades include more powerful engines, more interactive cockpits, new helmets for pilots and efforts to reduce the Typhoon's signature – which should make the aircraft harder to detect.

Tornado crews talk about the final combat sorties

"This truly is the end of an era, having played a vital role in keeping Britain and its allies safe for four decades,"’ Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said.

"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."

The Tornado’s official retirement date is in March and in the meantime, the fighter jet will be used for training purposes.