RAF Tornado GR4 Jets Return Home After Flying Their Final Operational Sortie From RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus

On January 31st of January 2019, the RAF operated the final operational sortie of the Tornado GR4. The aircraft (ZA601/066 and ZA542/035) took off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus. Pictured here is the last aircraft to take off, bringing an end to four and a half years of the types involvement on Op SHADER. (Crown Copyright)

The end of an era: “Tonka” have returned to RAF Marham from their last tour of duty.

On Jan. 31, 2019, the RAF launched the final operational sortie of the Tornado GR4. The aircraft (ZA601/066 and ZA542/035) took off from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus and operated the final mission against Daesh in Syria and Iraq, marking the end of the type’s involvement in Operation “Shader”.

The first mission against the Islamic State targets was carried out on Sept. 27, 2014, when two RAF Tornado GR4s, deployed at Akrotiri airbase, in Cyprus, performed an armed reconnaissance mission in company with other planes from the international coalition, over Iraq. The RAF Tornado jets, supported by a Voyager tanker, carried three Paveway IV LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs) and a Litening III pod that enabled the aircraft to gather intelligence that helped acquire potential targets for future operations. Since then, four and a half years of air strikes and recce missions followed (some of those could be tracked online transiting via Israel and Jordan’s airspace by means of ADS-B or Mode-S). Until Feb. 4, 2019.

Eight Tornado GR4, belonging to both the No 9 and 31 Sqn and operating as part of the No 903 Expeditionary Air Wing were deployed to Akrotiri yesterday. The first five aircraft returned to RAF Marham on Feb. 4; the remaining three, landed at their homebase on Feb. 5, 2019. The aircraft were supported by Voyager KC.3 ZZ336 tanker on their way home.

For the next couple of months, until Mar. 31, 2019, when the type will be eventually retired, the RAF Tornado GR4s will continue to fly training missions over the UK.

Beginning on Jan. 30, one of the 6x Typhoon FGR4 jets deployed to Akrotiri have started carrying the Brimstone 2 precision attack missile, taking over the role in support of Operation Shader from the Tornado: the integration of this kind of weapons means that the Tiffies are now able to carry all the same weapons as the Tonka, Jane’ 360’s Jon Lake noted.

Noteworthy, during the first air strike in support of Op. Shader, the Typhoons carried also 2x 500-lb Paveway IV dual-mode bombs, and a Litening III laser designation pod, 2x ASRAAMs (Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missiles) and a single AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range-Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM): “double the weapon load of the most recently seen Tornado ‘Shader’ fit, which included only a single Paveway IV and a single Brimstone, with no air-to-air missiles,” Lake highlighted.

RAF Tornado GR4 taxies after landing. (Image credit: Crown Copyright).
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.