Three RAF Tornado GR4 Jets Have Completed The Type’s Finale Flypasts Across The UK

Tornado GR4 ZG752 taxies after landing at RAF Marham at the end on Feb. 21, 2019 (All images credit: Stewart Jack)

Last week, the iconic Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 flew over many of the country’s RAF bases.

The RAF Tornado GR4 fleet prepares for retirement. The official deadline is set to Mar. 31, 2019, even though there are rumors that the aircraft will eventually fly for the last time on Mar. 14.

Before leaving active series, after nearly 40 years of operations, the iconic attack aircraft conducted a series of flypasts over many of the country’s RAF bases where hundreds of people gathered to watch the aircraft’s farewell.

Three tours were arranged by the RAF, on Feb. 19, 20 and 21. Three special painted jets, the 31 Squadron “Goldstars”, 9 Squadron IX (Bomber) Squadron “Green Bats” and the 1980’s camouflage tribute “Tonkas” (as the aircraft are nicknamed since the early ’80s), took part in the flypasts launching from RAF Marham in Norfolk to cover (roughly) all the airbases in Central, Southern UK and Scotland.

Tornado GR4 ZG775 IX(B) Squadron RAF departs RAF Marham.
Tornado GR4 ZG752 takes off for the final flypast.
The Tornado GR4 ZD716 31 Sqn Squadron takes off on Feb. 21, 2019.

Kudos to the RAF Marham media team for an excellent coverage of the final flypasts, including weather and schedule updates.

Station Commander Ian “Cab” Townsend and Air Chief Marshall Stephen Hillier took to the skies in the Tornado GR4 for their final sortie on Feb. 21, before the disbandment of 9 and 31 squadrons on the 31st March 2019. Stephen Hillier has clocked up an astounding 2170 flying hours in the Tornado in his 32 years service for the Royal Air Force!

The three-ship formation headed north to Scotland for the final day of 3 flypast routes that covered the airbases that had paid a significant part in the Tornados incredible 40 year journey. Our friend and contributor Stewart Jack was at RAF Marham and took the photographs of this historical event.

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 eight  RAF Tornado jets, belonging to both the No 9 and 31 Sqn and operating as part of the No 903 Expeditionary Air Wing returned home on Feb. 4 and 5: the first five aircraft returned to RAF Marham on Feb. 4; the remaining three, landed at their homebase on Feb. 5, 2019.

One of the three special colored Tonka was ZD716 “31 Squadron Goldstars”.

Since then, the Tornado GR4s are conducting training sorties around the country. Unfortunately, the aircraft are no longer flying at ultra low level meaning that there will be no more opportunities to catch the Tonka flying fast through the valleys in the “Mach Loop”.

Two special colored Tornado GR4 taxi after landing at RAF Marham at the end of their finale flypast on Feb. 21, 2019.
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.