The UK Royal Air Force has drawn to a close 40 years of service by its Panavia Tornado strike aircraft, with a final formation flight involving nine GR4-model examples conducted from the service's Marham base in Norfolk on 28 February.
Now that operational activities with the Tornado GR4 have concluded, the last two units to have flown the type – 9 and 31 squadrons – will be formally disbanded in mid-March. These will subsequently be reformed, respectively equipped with the Eurofighter Typhoon and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Protector RG1 remotely piloted air system.
The RAF says its Tornado force logged a combined 185,603h on deployed operations between 1990 and the end of January, when its final combat sorties were performed in support of the coalition campaign over Iraq and Syria. This commitment is now being fulfilled by the service's Typhoons, as its first Lockheed Martin F-35Bs work towards achieving full operational capability status.
Having entered UK service in 1979, the Tornado GR1 was first used in combat by the RAF during the first Gulf War, in 1991, when 60 of its aircraft were forward-deployed for missions flown from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The type was also used during operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Libya.
First flown in prototype form in August 1974, the Tornado was the result of a three-nation development effort between Germany, Italy and the UK. Almost 1,000 examples were manufactured, including for lone export customer Saudi Arabia. Cirium's Fleets Analyzer shows that around 270 remain in frontline use with the remaining trio of operator nations.