Panavia Tornado GR.4 [Reg: ZG750 "Pinky"] of the Royal Air Force's 12(B) Squadron preparing to depart RAF Fairford after RIAT 2017. Image - Khalem Chapman ©.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) has recalled its final Tornado ground attack aircraft from combat operations in preparation for its retirement.

The Tornado flew its last operational sortie out of RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus on 5 February 2019, where deployed aircraft flew back to their home base of RAF Marham, Norfolk, UK.

“It is with a heavy heart, but enormous pride, that we bid farewell to the Tornado from operations.”

uk Defence Secretary, gavin williamson mp

In a statement released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson MP 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.”

The aircraft have been deployed at RAF Akrotiri since 2014 to assist in Operation Shader, an ongoing coalition effort in the fight against ISIS. Royal Air Force coalition airstrikes will now be taken over by the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4.

41(R) Test and Evaluation Squadron’s specially painted “Seek and Destroy” Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 [Reg: ZK315] flanked by a pair of RAF Marham-based Tornado GR.4s at the RAF Scampton Airshow 2017. Image – Khalem Chapman ©.
The UK’s newest fighter aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) multi-role stealth fighter will also take over some roles which will be left vacant by the Tornado. The F-35B will also be able to operate from the Royal Navy’s new state-of-the-art Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.


A flypast celebrating the history of 617 Squadron “the Dambusters” took place at RIAT 2018, involving the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s (BBMF) Avro Lancaster B.I, a Panavia Tornado GR.4, and the squadron’s latest combat aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II. Image – Khalem Chapman ©.

The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Stephen Hillier said: “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.”

During the aircraft’s operational career, the RAF’s Tornado force have seen active combat operations over Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.

A tweet from AEROSPACE Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief, Tim Robinson, noted that: “Apart from 18 days off between Iraq and Afghanistan- RAF Tornados have been constantly on ops since 1990.”

As of 6 February 2019, just 17 Tornado’s remain in service. The RAF is preparing to withdraw its last Tornado aircraft from service on 31 March 2019. With aircraft either being earmarked for preservation or sent to the scrap heap.

In January, a specially painted aircraft to celebrate the aircraft’s near 40-year service to the UK was unveiled with a special flight, shown in the video below.

More news is still to be announced regarding any events for the retirement, follow @AirheadJourno on Twitter for updates. In the meantime, if you’d like to read up on the Tornado’s long, illustrious service life with the RAF, then click the link to read my feature: The Royal Air Force and the Panavia Tornado: Going Out Fighting!