Tornado

The Tornado is a twin-engined, swing wing two seat aircraft, jointly developed by the UK, Germany and Italy. The main focus of this article is the IDS (Interdictor/Strike) variant operated by the Lossiemouth Tornado Wing; however there are two other primary versions of the Tornado; the ADV (Air Defence Variant), and the suppression of enemy air defence Tornado ECR (Electronic Combat/Reconnaissance).

Developed and built by Panavia, a tri-nation company consisting of British Aerospace (then the British Aircraft Corporation), MBB of Germany, and Alenia Aeronautica of Italy, the Tornado first flew on 14th August 1974 as the Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA). By the time production ended in 1998, a total of 992 Tornado aircraft (all variants) had been built by Panavia for the three partner nations, and the only export customer, Saudi Arabia.

Tornado MRCA P-02  XX946

Tornado MRCA P-03 XX947

Tornado IDS 6612 RSAF

International co-operation continued after its entry into service within the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE), a training and evaluation unit operating from RAF Cottesmore. The first RAF Tornadoes arrived at the beginning of July 1980, followed by German examples the following October and Italian examples two years later in April 1982; the eventually complement was 19 RAF, 23 German and six Italian aircraft. Flying operations started on 5th January 1981 and at its height the TTTE trained an average of 300 crews per annum. In the cost cutting post Cold War era, the three partner nations decided to run their own type training, and consequently the unit disbanded on 24th February 1999, with all Tornado flying ending by 31st March 1999.

Tornado IDS TTTE 43+23 GAF

Tornado GR.1 ZA324 TTTE

Tornado IDS MM55001 AMI TTTE


The Design

The Tornado was originally designed as a low-level supersonic ground attack bomber, capable of taking off and landing in short distances. In general, when an aircraft is designed to fly at high speeds it will usually have poor low-speed characteristics. In order to achieve the desired high-speed performance, an aircraft requires a highly swept or delta wing platform. However, such wing designs are very inefficient at low speeds where unswept wing plan forms are required. Therefore, in order for an aircraft to be operated efficiently at both high and low speeds, variable wing sweep is the best option, as incorporated into the Tornado design. When the wings are swept back, the Tornado GR.4 increases its high-speed low-level capability by reducing drag. When sweeping, the wings partially slide into the fuselage, reducing the exposed wing area. This gives the aircraft a low gust response in turbulent low-level winds. This not only makes flight much more comfortable for the aircrew but makes the aircraft a more stable platform from which to aim and deliver unguided weapons at low level.

The aircraft was designed to be land-based and operate from large airfields that were considered to be vulnerable to aerial attack. During the development of the aircraft, short field landing capability was considered essential in order to enable the aircraft to operate from short strips on potentially damaged runways and taxiways.

When required to fly at low speed, the pilot will sweep the wings forward (through a selection lever in the cockpit) to maximise lift, and when flying faster the wings will be swept further back. The Tornado GR.4 has three levels of wing sweep: 25, 45 and 67 degrees.

The Tornado was cleared to carry almost all the air-launched weapons in the NATO armoury, including cluster bombs, anti-runway munitions, and nuclear weapons. The IDS also has a limited air-to-air capability with AIM-9 Sidewinder air to air missiles.

RAF Tornadoes have carried a variety of camouflage schemes since their initial entry into service. The GR.1 was delivered in a gun metal grey/olive drab green camouflage, but this was changed to dark grey during the late 1990s. In operations over Iraq some GR.1s received a sandy, almost pink scheme. GR.4s participating in the 2003 Iraq War were painted in a light grey scheme.

Tornado GR.1 ZA452 XV Sqn

Tornado GR.4 12 Sqn


Combat Operations

The first of 228 RAF GR.1s was delivered on 5th June 1979, with the type entering service in 1981, initially with the TTTE and 45 Sqn (the Tactical Weapons Conversion Unit) and from 1983 the front line Sqns of the RAF in Germany and the United Kingdom.

The Tornado was designed for ultra-low level penetration strikes, in all weathers using terrain following radar, on Warsaw Pact targets in Europe with both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons. Thankfully the Tornado was never used for its intended mission; its actual combat debut came in 1991 during Operation GRANBY, the first Gulf War, when nearly 60 RAF GR.1s were deployed to bases in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The main initial task of the GR.1 was to use the JP233 runway denial weapon on Iraqi airfields - flying at transonic speeds at 50 to 100 feet above the ground to deliver the weapon proved costly, with a number of GR.1s lost during early operations.

In the first 24 hours of offensive operations, RAF aircraft flew a total of 101 sorties, an intensity of activity which was sustained throughout the early period of the conflict (by the end of hostilities, the GR.1 had delivered over 3000 tonnes of ordnance, comprising over 100 JP233 airfield denial weapons, around 6000 1000lb bombs (of which over 1000 were laser guided), over 100 ALARM anti-radar missiles and nearly 700 air-to-ground rockets).

Tornado GR.1 ZD810 OP GRANBY

Following the end of the initial phase of the war, the GR.1s switched to medium level strike missions. However they lacked both equipment and training to complete these missions properly. In an emergency deployment, the RAF deployed a detachment of PAVE SPIKE designator equipped Buccaneers to mark targets for the GR.1s and their precision guided weapons.

Following the end of the war, British forces remained in the Gulf, with GR.1s based at Ali Al Salem airbase in Kuwait for operations over the southern ‘no fly zone’. The GR.1s later took part in December 1998’s Operation DESERT FOX; a major four-day bombing campaign against Iraqi targets.

1999 saw further action for the GR.1 in the Kosovo War. Aircraft operated from RAF Bruggen in Germany during the first part of the war, flying precision strike missions. They later moved to a base on Corsica shortly before the war ended to bring them closer to the combat zone.

Operation SOUTHERN WATCH witnessed the operational debut of the GR.4 during April 1998, patrolling large areas of southern Iraq.

Although a small number of weapons were dropped during SOUTHERN WATCH Operations, the GR.4’s full wartime debut came during Operation TELIC, the British part of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. This campaign marked a number of firsts for the aircraft; 617 Sqn used the Storm Shadow air launched cruise missile for the first time and enhanced Paveway Laser Guided Bombs were used to attack runways.

Tornado GR.4 OP TELIC 617 Sqn


Anti Shipping Operations and Mid Life Update

The Tornado GR.1B was a specialised anti-shipping variant of the RAF Tornado GR.1. Based at RAF Lossiemouth, they replaced the Buccaneer in the anti-shipping role with the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile. With the GR.4 upgrade it was decided there was no further requirement for the specialised anti-shipping GR.4B variant; the threat from surface warships had diminished and the Sea Eagle missile was coming towards the end of its service life with no plans to replace it.

Tornado GR.1B ZA450 12 Sqn

The Tornado Mid-Life Update (MLU) was originally conceived as early as 1984, however, it was not approved by the UK MOD until 1994. This MLU to Tornado GR.4 standard would improve capability in the now more widely used medium level precision attack role whilst maintaining the Tornado's exceptional low-level attack capability. British Aerospace (later BAe Systems) was contracted to upgrade 142 GR.1s to GR.4 standard, with work beginning in 1996 and was completed in 2003. The upgraded Tornado features FLIR (Forward-Looking Infrared), a wide-angle HUD (Heads-Up Display), improved cockpit displays, NVG (Night Vision Goggles) capabilities, new avionics and weapons systems, updated computer systems, and a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver. The updated weapons system allowed integration of the latest offensive weapons, such as MBDA Storm Shadow and Brimstone missiles and reconnaissance equipment such as the RAPTOR pod.

Tornado GR.4 ZA398 617 Sqn

The reconnaissance variant of the Tornado, the GR.1A, was not overlooked with 25 aircraft upgraded to GR.4A standard. Although expected to remain in service until 2025, the RAF is currently examining replacement options for the Tornado fleet, this could be a UAV or a cruise missile (possibly a Storm Shadow variant) or a manned aircraft such as modified version of the Eurofighter Typhoon or the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

F-35AA-1

The RAF Tornado GR.4 fleet (both the Lossiemouth and Marham Wings) have been allocated the following tail codes:

ZA365

001

 

ZA562

051

 

ZD793

101

ZA367

002

 

ZA563

052

 

ZD810

102

ZA369

003

 

ZA564

053

 

ZD811

103

ZA370

004

 

ZA585

054

 

ZD812

104

ZA371

005

 

ZA587

055

 

ZD842

105

ZA372

006

 

ZA588

056

 

ZD843

106

ZA373

007

 

ZA589

057

 

ZD844

107

ZA393

008

 

ZA591

058

 

ZD847

108

ZA395

009

 

ZA592

059

 

ZD848

109

ZA398

010

 

ZA594

060

 

ZD849

110

ZA400

011

 

ZA595

061

 

ZD850

111

ZA401

012

 

ZA596

062

 

ZD851

112

ZA404

013

 

ZA597

063

 

ZD890

113

ZA405

014

 

ZA598

064

 

ZD892

114

ZA406

015

 

ZA600

065

 

ZD895

115

ZA410

016

 

ZA601

066

 

ZD996

117

ZA412

017

 

ZA602

067

 

ZE116

116

ZA446

018

 

ZA604

068

 

ZG707

119

ZA447

019

 

ZA606

069

 

ZG709

120

ZA449

020

 

ZA607

070

 

ZG711

121

ZA452

021

 

ZA608

071

 

ZG712

122

ZA453

022

 

ZA609

072

 

ZG713

123

ZA456

023

 

ZA611

073

 

ZG714

124

ZA458

024

 

ZA612

074

 

ZG726

125

ZA459

025

 

ZA613

075

 

ZG727

126

ZA461

026

 

ZA614

076

 

ZG729

127

ZA462

027

 

ZD707

077

 

ZG750

128

ZA463

028

 

ZD709

078

 

ZG752

129

ZA469

029

 

ZD711

079

 

ZG754

130

ZA470

030

 

ZD712

080

 

ZG756

131

ZA472

031

 

ZD713

081

 

ZG769

132

ZA473

032

 

ZD714

082

 

ZG771

133

ZA492

033

 

ZD715

083

 

ZG775

134

ZA541

034

 

ZD716

084

 

ZG777

135

ZA542

035

 

ZD719

085

 

ZG779

136

ZA543

036

 

ZD720

086

 

ZG791

137

ZA544

037

 

ZD739

087

 

ZG792

138

ZA546

038

 

ZD740

088

 

ZG794

140

ZA547

039

 

ZD741

089

 

 

 

ZA548

040

 

ZD742

090

 

 

 

ZA549

041

 

ZD743

091

 

 

 

ZA550

042

 

ZD744

092

 

 

 

ZA551

043

 

ZD745

093

 

 

 

ZA552

044

 

ZD746

094

 

 

 

ZA553

045

 

ZD747

095

 

 

 

ZA554

046

 

ZD748

096

 

 

 

ZA556

047

 

ZD749

097

 

 

 

ZA557

048

 

ZD788

098

 

 

 

ZA559

049

 

ZD790

099

 

 

 

ZA560

050

 

ZD792

100

 

 

 

 

Tornado GR.1T ZA326 ETPS

 

RAF Users - Past and Present

II(AC) Sqn

Marham

GR.4/4A

Active

1988-

V (AC) Sqn

Coningsby

F.3

Disbanded

1987-2003

IX Sqn

Marham

GR.4/4A

Active

1985-

XI(F) Sqn

Leeming

F.3

Disbanded

1988-2005

12(B) Sqn

Lossiemouth

GR.4/4A

Active

1993-

13 Sqn

Marham

GR.4/4A

Active

1990-

14 Sqn

Lossiemouth

GR.4/4A

Active

1985-

XV(R) Sqn

Lossiemouth

GR.4

GR.4 Operational Conversion Unit

XV Sqn (RAF Germany) 1983-1992 then as XV(R) Sqn (GR.4 OCU) 1992 onwards

16 Sqn

Laarbruch

GR.1

Disbanded

1983-1991

17 Sqn

Brüggen

GR.1

Disbanded

1985-1999

20 Sqn

Laarbruch

GR.1

Disbanded

1984-1992

23 Sqn

Leeming

F.3

Disbanded

1988-1994

XXV(F) Sqn

Leeming

F.3

Active

1998 (due to disband March 2008)

27 Sqn

Marham

GR.1

Disbanded

1983-1993

29 Sqn

Coningsby

F.3

Disbanded

1987-1998

31 Sqn

Marham

GR.4/4A

Active

1984-

43(F) Sqn

Leuchars

F.3

Active

1990-

56(R) Sqn

Leuchars

F.3

F.3 Operational Conversion Unit

1992-

111 Sqn

Leuchars

F3

Active

1990-

617 Sqn

Lossiemouth

GR.4/4A

Active

1982-

229 OCU
(65(R) Sqn)

Coningsby

F.2/3

Renumbered 56(R) Sqn 1992, transferred to RAF Leuchars 2003

1984-1992 F.2/3 Operational Conversion Unit

No. 1435 Flight

Mount Pleasant

F.3

 

1992-

Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE)

Cottesmore

GR.1

Disbanded

1981-1999

Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit
(45 Sqn – TWCU)

Honington

GR.1

Renumbered XV(R) Sqn

1981-1992

 

Although still very much an operational aircraft, a number of Tornado IDS & ADV airframes have been preserved in the UK:

 

 

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