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RAF Tornado jets return home for final time

Air crew were greeted by loved ones on the tarmac at RAF Marham in Norfolk as they climbed out of the aircraft.

Officer Commanding IX Squadron Wing Commander James Heeps with his wife and son after piloting the last RAF Tornado GR4 back to their home base at RAF Marham in Norfolk (Joe Giddens/PA)
Officer Commanding IX Squadron Wing Commander James Heeps with his wife and son after piloting the last RAF Tornado GR4 back to their home base at RAF Marham in Norfolk (Joe Giddens/PA)

The RAF’s Tornado jets have returned home to the UK for the last time as the iconic aircraft prepares for retirement after almost 40 years in service.

Eight Tornadoes, which were stationed at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and used in the fight against Islamic State, have now returned to RAF Marham in Norfolk.

The first five jets made the five-hour return flight on Monday, and the last three did so on Tuesday.

Air crew were greeted by loved ones on the tarmac as they climbed out of the aircraft.

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Families greeted the returning service personnel (SAC Simon Armstrong)

The Tornado, in service since 1979 and first used in combat during the first Gulf War, will leave service before the end of March.

Six Typhoons remain in RAF Akrotiri and will take over the role of the Tornados. Asked if the departure of the Tornados will leave a gap in the air campaign against Islamic State, Air Vice Marshal Harvey Smyth said: “No, it won’t.”

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(PA Graphics)

He continued: “Effectively the capability that the Tornado has brought to bear we have built up our Typhoon force that it can also match that capability.”

He added it was the right time to retire the ageing aircraft which “served the country well” as “there’s only so much more upgrade we can do”.

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Reunited families embraced on an emotional day (Joe Giddens/PA)

Air crew of the last three Tornadoes to return included 27-year-old Flight Lieutenant Nathan Shawyer, who was the last ever pilot to be trained for Tornado jet operations by the RAF, and 55-year-old Flight Lieutenant Chris Stradling who has accrued more than 6,000 hours of flying time in Tornadoes.

Mr Stradling, who flew his first Tornado in 1987, said it was a “real emotional day”.

“I’d wanted to join the air force since I was a kid and I’ve had posters of the Tornado on my bedroom wall since probably before it even took to the air so it’s always been an ambition of mine to join the air force and I always wanted to fly Tornado,” he said.

“That was my dream all the way through my training and all of the flight training I did, Tornado was always my first choice.”

Asked if it is the right time to retire the Tornado, he said: “No, not really, I think we’ve still got a job to do and I think this aeroplane is perfect for the job that it’s doing out in [Operation] Shader [the military campaign against Islamic State].

“A decision has been made to retire it and we’ve obviously got other aeroplanes now to take its place which they will do admirably but I think we could probably still get another couple of years out of this thing.”

Mr Shawyer described it as the “end of an era” and that the final flight from Cyprus to the UK was “a privilege to be part of, a fantastic sortie, an honour”.

“When we left Akrotiri there were hundreds of people lining up and there was a real sense of what a big occasion it all was,” he said, adding that there was an “amazing reception” at RAF Marham.

The Tornado will officially retire from service at the end of March and will only be used for training purposes over the UK in the intervening period.

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 F-35s and the Typhoon’s new weapons systems will keep us as a world leader in air combat for a generation.”

PA

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