The Panavia Tornado GR4 strike aircraft has been retired from Royal Air Force service after a 39-year career.
The ‘Tonka’ as it is affectionally called was officially retired from service on March 14 following the disbandment parades for the final two operating units, Nos IX (B) Squadron and 31 Squadron, at RAF Marham in East Anglia, and was marked with a flyby and a ceremonial final shutdown in front of 850 guests including the RAF Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier.
The retirement comes just weeks after the final combat missions flown by Tornados on Operation SHADER, the coalition operation to defeat ISIS.
“Today is a time to rightly recognise the truly exceptional achievements of the people who have been the Tornado Force,” Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said at the parade. “We reflect on the courage, skill, commitment and sadly sometimes sacrifice of those who have been at the heart of the Tornado story, from its inception through to the present day.
“All have played their part to the full in the success story that is Tornado. Which is why I’m especially delighted to have been able to present today some of the first Op SHADER operational service medals to those who have worked so hard on the ground to deliver Tornado’s success on its most recent operation – fitting recognition that the RAF’s operational achievement is always a team effort.”
The Tornado was a joint development between British Aerospace, Germany’s MBB, and Aeritalia of Italy. The aircraft’s first flight was in August 1974, and the type entered service with all three nations in 1979/80.
The Tornado was developed in three main variants; the IDS strike version which culminated in the RAF’s GR4, the ECR electronic combat – reconnaissance version operated by Germany and Italy, and the ADV air defence variant operated by the UK and Saudi Arabia. The F3 (ADV) was retired from RAF service in 2011.
No IX(B) Squadron will become a Eurofighter Typhoon squadron from April 1, and will based at RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, while No 31 Squadron will reform in 2024 as a Protector (GA-ASI Predator) squadron and will be based at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.
Tornado IDS, ECR and ADV variants continue in service with the air forces of Germany, Italy, and Saudi Arabia.