Tornado History

The Tornado has been the mainstay of the RAF strike/attack force since June 1982.

Designed and built as a collaborative project in the UK, Germany and Italy, the Tornado programme was initiated in 1968 and known as Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA). A new tri-national company, Panavia, was set up in Germany to build the aircraft. The first prototype flew on 14 August 1974 and initial orders from the three partner countries totalled 640 aircraft, with the work share divided in relation to the number of aircraft ordered; UK and Germany 42.5% each and Italy 15%. The initial RAF requirement was for 220 aircraft, and the first of these was delivered to the new Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE) at RAF Cottesmore in July 1980.

The world’s first operational Tornado squadron was IX Squadron, based at Honington in Suffolk, from June 1982.

Designed from the outset as a low-level supersonic aircraft, Tornado is capable of carrying a wide range of conventional stores, including the MBDA Storm Shadow long-range stand-off missile,  MBDA Brimstone anti-armour missile system, Air-Launched Anti-Radar Missile (ALARM), Paveway II, III and IV laser-guided bombs (LGBs).

For self-defence, the Tornado carries Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and is fitted with twin internal 27mm cannons.

During the 1991 Gulf War, 5 Tornados were modified to carry the new Thermal Imaging Airborne Laser Designator (TIALD) pod and enjoyed great great success.

Modifications to a number of aircraft were carried out to produce the GR1B variant optimised for maritime strike missions with the Sea Eagle anti-shipping missile and in 1993-94, Nos. 12, 14 and 617 Squadrons relocated to Lossiemouth to replace the Buccaneers in this role.

Tornado squadrons at RAF Bruggen were the last RAF flying units to leave Germany when the station was handed back to the host nation into mid-2001.

IX(B) and 31 Squadrons moved to Marham, Norfolk, and No 14 Squadron moved to Lossiemouth, Morayshire in Scotland.

Tornado was upgraded to GR4 status in 1999 and this made it even more capable.

Lossiemouth’s 12(B) Sqn  disbanded on 28 March 2014, with its future unknown.

The junior Sqn also disbanded on 28 March 2014 and will reform as the first UK F35B (Lightning II) Sqn at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, USA, in 2017.

The RN’s 809 Sqn will also reform with the Lightning II, with the aim for both sqns to fly into RAF Marham on 1 Apr 2018.

II(AC) Sqn was due to disband as a Tornado Sqn at RAF Marham on 31 March 2015 and re-equip as a Typhoon Sqn on 1 April 2015 at RAF Lossiemouth. However, due to world events in 2014, this will be delayed for 12 months.

The former Tornado Weapons Conversion Unit, which was renumbered XV(Reserve) Sqn, will remain at RAF Lossiemouth but will downsize progressively, commensurate with it’s reduced throughput. XV(R) Sqn will disband in around 2018.

The current plan is for IX(B) Sqn to keep flying Tornados until the aircraft retires from Service in around 2020. This will give IX(B) Sqn the distinction of being the first and last Tornado Sqn.

Technical Specifications
Entered Service 1980

Two afterburning Turbo Union RB199-103 turbofans of 15,800 lb thrust.

45ft 7.25in (13.90m) – wings fully spread; 28ft 2.5in (8.59m) – 68° sweep

54ft 9.5in (16.70m)
Max Speed

1,452mph (2,336km/h) at 36,000ft (11,000m)