Tornado GR.4 — ZG771 arrives at the UAS
Originally meant to be delivered in April 2020 but scuppered due to the first Covid-19 lock-down and subsequent pandemic, the Ulster Aviation Society finally took ownership of Tornado GR.4 ZG771 on 29th September, 2021, after it was generously gifted by the RAF.
The ground reconnaissance aircraft arrived by road from England, carried in parts by a convoy of five lorries to its new home to the UAS' home in Maze Long Kesh.
Tornado GR.4 ZG771 after its first day of re-assembly in Sept 2021 by the RAF JARTS team
It's one of the very last of the flying GR.4 with the special Black "Goodbye" tails from RAF Marham.
A specialised JARTS (Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transportation Squadron) unit were tasked with rebuilding it over a week to allow its front-of-house display at the UAS' hangars.
Tornado GR.4 ZG771 arrives at the Ulster Aviation Society hangars to be reassembled by an RAF JARTS team
Championed by Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth, former head of the RAF’s Tornado Force, and patron of the UAS who originally came from Donaghcloney in Co. Down.
“From a heritage standpoint, it’ll be good to see the Tornado there, considering all the good that the Aviation Society does. It’s an aircraft that provided 40 years of good service to the country,” he said.
“To me, this was too good an opportunity to miss.”
Very few GR.4's have been delivered to museums in the UK and ZG771 is the first one to be ‘gifted’ to a non-national collection.
History of the Panavia Tornado GR.4
On 26th March 1969 four nations UK, Germany, Italy and Netherlands formed a multi-national company PANAVIA AIRCRAFT Gmbh to develop and manufacture a Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA). In 1970 Netherlands withdrew and the remaining three countries set up a tri- national company, Turbo Union to develop and manufacture the RB199 engine.
1st prototype flew Manching Germany 14th August 1974 with the 2nd prototype XX946 flying from BAe Warton 30th October 1974, in all 19 development aircraft flew with 2 lost in accidents and 1 badly damaged.
The RAF received their first of 228 GR.Mk1 on 1st July 1980 at RAF Cottesmore and by 1st June 1982 No IX(B) squadron became the first front line Tornado squadron worldwide and operated the aircraft to the squadron disbandment 14th March 2019 with the retirement of the Tornado 31st March 2019.
The second Squadron No 31 followed and was deployed to RAF Germany bases Laarbruch, Bruggen and as more aircraft delivered Harrier and Jaguar aircraft gave way to Tornado equipping these squadrons.
GR.4 evolution from GR.Mk1
In 1991 the Tornado went to war in the first Gulf War 49 GR. Mk1 and 18 F.3 and where successful but lost 6 aircraft on missions. During this time a mid-life upgrade was underway and 142 GR.1’s were upgraded between 1997 and 2003 with a Avionic installation which after completing the aircraft was designated a GR.4. The GR.1 stayed on until superseded by the upgraded GR4.
Initially in 1990 GR.1’s supported operations in Kosovo operating from RAF Germany bases until redeploying to Corsica again these GR1’s superseded by the GR.4. In 2003 in the Iraq invasion GR.4’s operated alongside American forces in the opening phases and stayed operational until re-deploying in June 2009 to Afghanistan and continuing operations up to November 2014. In that period flew 5,000 pair sorties, over 33,500 hours including 600 hours “show of force”.
Forward Cockpit of the Tornado GR.4
Aft Cockpit of the Tornado GR.4
70 engagements and some 140 Brimestone missiles, Paveway IV bombs deployed and some 3,000 27mm cannon shells fired. 18th March 2011 Tornado’s where deployed to Cyprus to enforce the No Fly Zone in Libya. Several Tornado’s flew 3,000mi strike missions inside Libya which where the longest range bombing missions conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict. Tornado’s where stationed in Cyprus until February 2018 and whilst there carried out missions to both Iraq and Syria.
On 10th July 2018 9xGR4’s from RAF Marham participated in the London flyover to celebrate 100years of the RAF. To celebrate 40years of Tornado service and to mark the type’s retirement several flypasts were carried out 19.20,21st February 2019, and on the 28th February 2019 a Diamond 9 formation flew over the graduation parade at RAF Cranwell.
The last official flight of a Tornado was operated by the oldest serving airframe ZA463 piloted by Squadron Leader Ian Dornan and Squadron Leader Stephen Beardmore over RAF Marham on the disbandment of No IX(B) Squadron 14th March 2019. The Tornado was finally retired 31st March 2019. The main squadrons to operate the Tornado were Nos 2,9,13,14,XV reserve, 31 and 617.
A intercept version ADV aircraft was developed along side the strike IDS and first prototype a F.2 flew 15th March 1984 but serious problems with the Foxhunter radar the F.2 did not go operational but undertook a training role until the F.3 flew 20th November 1985 when all 18 F.2’s mothballed.
The F.3 went on to operate with the last 3 aircraft retired on the 9th July 2012 after service in the first Gulf War, Bosnia and Iraq war. A total of 160 F.3 IDS variant were built.
Footnote: The German Air Force, Italian Air Force and RSAUDI Air Force still operate Tornado variants.