Aircraft

RAF Chief Receives Soaking After 'Significant' Tornado Farewell Flypasts

The aircraft flew over 39 locations for during its swansong before retiring from service in March.

The Tornado has completed three days of farewell flypasts before it retires from service.

The final leg of the Tornado Farewell Flypast tour has taken place Thursday over three sites in Scotland that have been pivotal to the aircraft's 40-year history.

The jets soared across the skies above Leuchars Station, RAF Tain and RAF Lossiemouth.

In the pilot’s seats were the Chief of the Air Staff and RAF Marham’s Station Commander, who were both conducting their final ever flights.

Hitting such a milestone meant the day ended with a very particular RAF tradition that they could not escape - the 'soaking'.

"It's a very significant moment for me personally, but I think more importantly, very significant for the RAF," Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier told Forces News.

"This is after 37 years of frontline service - that's nearly 40% of the RAF's history with just this one aircraft.

"It's done such a fantastic job in operations around the world."

RAF Marham soaking
The Chief of the Air Staff was not the only one to get a soaking.

Over the past few days, thousands of people came out to show support, eagerly capturing the iconic jets on mobile phones across the country as local residents came out to take a glimpse of the aircraft.

On Tuesday, the jets were seen flying over RAF Cosford and several other locations including RAF Leeming, the National Memorial Arboretum and the BAE Systems site at Warton in Lancashire, where the Tornado was originally made.

At Warton – affectionately dubbed the Tornados' spiritual home – where many were built, thousands turned out to bid farewell.

After the planes flew over the site, Alan Thornber, who worked as part of the original team that developed the Tornado, told Forces News that the event was very important to him:

“It was brilliant, wasn’t it? I mean it was well worth waiting for! Up 40, 50 years I’ve waited for it I suppose.

“It was with sadness, with a touch of sadness. We wouldn’t really see the like of it again over this airfield.”

He said when the planes flew over he thought:

“What a great aircraft and how proud I have been to have been part of that programme for 50 years. It really was quite something.”

Earlier this month, Tornados returned to the UK for the last time, ending nearly 40 years of service.

Taking part in the flypast, the boss of IX(B) Squadron, Wing Commander James Heeps said:

“It is a great privilege to be part of a national event that allows the public to say farewell to a brilliant aircraft that has been the cornerstone of our operations for so many years.

"It’s also a sad occasion because it will mean that from the end of next month the Tornado will never fly again."

First entering service in 1979, the fast jet has been used in operations across the world, most recently bombarding Daesh to push the terrorist group back through Syria and Iraq.

After over four years on Operation Shader, on 5 February this year the aircraft finally returned home from operations for good.

Another of the formation aircrew who had recently returned from operations will be Wing Commander Matt Bressani, the boss of 31 Squadron, the other remaining Tornado formation. 

“The national response to the Tornado farewell campaign and the reception we received when we returned from operations earlier this month shows what a special place this aircraft has in the nation’s heart.”

The Tornado will be officially retired from service at the end of March and will only be used for training purposes over the UK in the intervening period.

Nicknamed the "Tonka", the aircraft’s first use in live operations was during the Gulf War in 1991, when 60 Tornado GR1s were deployed from bases in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Two years later they were upgraded to the GR4 model, which has been used ever since over the skies of Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

Last month, the Defence Secretary paid tribute to the Tornado as he announced that nine of the UK's next generation F-35 Lightning stealth fighter jets are ready to be deployed on operations for the first time.

Gavin Williamson said the Tornado is "an amazing aircraft that has inspired so many".

Tornado taking off from RAF Akrotiri (Picture: Crown Copyright).
Tornado taking off from RAF Akrotiri (Picture: Crown Copyright).