Mar 14, 2019 by Ian Homer. Posted to category: General
(XH558 in formation with two Tornado GR4s of 12 (Bomber) Squadron. Photos ©Rich Cooper)
The first full production Tornado GR1, ZA319, flew in 1979 with the first RAF Tornado being delivered to RAF Cottesmore on 1st July 1980. On 5th February 2019 RAF Tornado jets returned home to the UK for the last time as the aircraft prepares for retirement after almost 40 years in service.
In June 1982, Number 9 Squadron (also known as No. IX (Bomber) Squadron or No. IX (B) Squadron) became the first front-line squadron in the world to operate the Tornado, having received its first Tornado GR1, ZA586 on 6th January 1982.
No. IX (B) Squadron is the oldest dedicated Bomber Squadron of the Royal Air Force. Formed in December 1914, it saw service throughout the First World War, including at the Somme and Passchendaele. During the Second World War, No. IX (B) Squadron was one of two Avro Lancaster units specialising in heavy precision bombing, the other was No. 617 Squadron.
Between 1962 and April 1982 the Squadron flew the Avro Vulcan B.2 as part of the V-Force, exchanging Vulcan aircraft for Tornados in June 1982.
The Squadron’s equipment included the WE.177 nuclear laydown bombs, handed down from the Vulcan force. No. IX (B) Squadron has operated the Tornado aircraft ever since.
Nicknamed ‘Tonka’, the aircraft has seen action in several conflicts and they were first used in live operations during the Gulf War in 1991.
In 1993 the project to upgrade the GR1s began. Tornado GR1s fought alongside the dramatically upgraded Tornado GR.Mk 4 during Operation Desert Fox in 1998. The final GR1 was upgraded and returned to the RAF on 10th June 2003. The GR4 model has been used ever since, operating in conflict zones such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.
To celebrate almost four decades of service and to mark the nearing Tornado retirement, a series of 'farewell flypasts' were carried out across the United Kingdom on 19th, 20th and 21st February 2019. On 28th February, nine Tornados flew out of RAF Marham for a diamond nine formation flypast over a graduation parade at RAF Cranwell before returning and carrying out a series of passes over RAF Marham.
The planned final flight of an RAF Tornado is a single sortie, on Thursday 14th March 2019, at RAF Marham, over the disbandment parade of No. IX (B) Squadron and No. 31 Squadron - the last two units to fly the "Tonka".
The Tornado will be replaced in service by Typhoon jets and a new fleet of F35 Lightning jets.