The RAF’s last remaining squadron of Tornado jets will be doing a flypast over bases in Lincolnshire on a three-day farewell tour of the country to mark their retirement, it has been confirmed.
Enthusiasts across England, Scotland and Wales will be treated to a final farewell to the jets when they make a series of flights on February 19, 20 and 21, with Lincolnshire taking up part of the first day of flying.
The aircraft, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, is to be retired from service after almost 40 years, by the end of March.
In a statement on social media, Station Commander Group Capt Ian Townsend said the tour will be a “superb celebration”.
There will also be a nine-plane formation flypast on the afternoon of February 28 over RAF Cranwell - the spiritual home of the RAF, as well as RAF Marham.
The planes will be able to be seen above 35 RAF stations and other locations and will be flying over RAF Waddington, RAF Cranwell, RAF Coningsby, RAF Donna Nook and RAF Holbeach towards the end of their first day of the tour as they return to base in Norfolk. RAF Cottesmore, just outside the county, will be one of the first to be flown over that day. It is hoped to have up to three jets in each afternoon’s flypast, depending on aircraft availability.
Approximate timings are to be published nearer the time, on Friday or Monday. A social media post included maps of all the flypast locations.
First entering service in 1979, the fast jets have been used in operations across the world, most recently bombarding Daesh in Syria and Iraq, operating out of Cyprus and only returning to Marham last week.
The weapons capabilities of the soon-to-retire Tornados are now being delivered by RAF Typhoon jets, such as those at RAF Coningsby.
The recently introduced new fleet of F-35 Lighting jets are to be based at RAF Marham.
The Tornado will only be used for training purposes over the UK up until retirement in March.
Originally named the Tornado GR1 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. Later they were upgraded to the GR4 model, which has been used ever since over the skies of Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson 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.
“But, 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.”
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier said: “As a Tornado GR4 pilot myself, I have seen the aircraft develop over its nearly 40 years of service into an outstanding combat aircraft, flown, maintained and supported by similarly outstanding air and groundcrew. The Tornado Force has been continuously deployed on operations since 1990, serving with immense distinction in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and the Balkans.
“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.
“We can all take immense pride in what the Tornado has achieved in defence of the nation over nearly four decades, and reflect back on the courage, commitment and achievements of everyone who has contributed to the success of this extraordinary aircraft.”