German And Italian Tornado Join U.S. F-16s For Flyover To Mark 50th Anniversary Of Both Types

(All images, credit: Senior Airman Jessica Sanchez-Chen and Airman 1st Class Albert Morel via Spangdahlem Air Base FB page)

The four-ship formation took to the skies of Spangdahlem, Bitburg and Wittlich to mark the 50th anniversary of the first flight of both the F-16 and Tornado.

Last week, on May 23, 2024, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, hosted a celebratory flyover to mark the 50th anniversary since the first flight in 1974 of the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the Panavia Tornado. In fact, as we reported, the “Viper”, as the F-16 is nicknamed by its crews, turned 50 on Jan. 20, while the Tornado’s turn will be on Aug.14.

A four-ship formation, made of two F-16’s of the U.S. Air Force 480th Fighter Squadron, a Tornado IDS of the German Air Force Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 33 and a Tornado ECR of the Italian Air Force 155° Gruppo ETS (Electronic Warfare Tactical Suppression), flew over Spangdahlem, Bitburg and Wittlich to mark the occasion. The formation was joined by another aircraft acting as photoship.

“Since both aircraft models took their first flights in 1974, the F-16 and the Tornado have defended NATO skies in tandem,” says the statement accompanying the photos on Spangdahlem’s Facebook page. “Over the past 50 years, these highly agile, multi-role fighters have become legendary symbols of NATO strength and interoperability”.

The F-16’s 50th anniversary

The F-16 Fighting Falcon, one of the world’s most popular and most recognizable fighter jets, marked on Jan. 20, 2024 half a century since its first flight. After the U.S. Air Force declared the YF-16 as the winner of the Advanced Day Fighter competition, the F-16 became the backbone of the service, with 935 aircraft in service which account for 50% of the fighter inventory.

The “Viper”, as the F-16 is nicknamed by its crews, grew through the years to become the world’s most numerous fighters in service today. In fact, the active fleet currently counts more than 2,100 aircraft in 25 countries, or 2,800 if we consider also training aircraft and non-combat roles.

F-16 Tornado 50th Anniversary
The four-ship formation flies over Spangdahlem Air Base.

The F-16 has flown an estimated 19.5 million flight hours and at least 13 million sorties. About 4,600 F-16 have been built and the production line is still active, with a backlog of 140 still to be produced.

On May 15, the U.S. Air Force F-16 Viper Demonstration Team also revealed a special 50th-anniversary paint scheme at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The red, white, and blue design, replicates the livery of the YF-16 prototype, with slight modifications to the original design, such as replacing “General Dynamics” with “20th Fighter Wing” and adding “Viper Demo” to the vertical stabilizer tip.

The Tornado’s 50th anniversary

Born in the 1960s as the Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA), the Tornado was designed as a twin-engine supersonic twin-seat bomber, with all-weather and low flight capabilities and a distinctive variable sweep wing. The aircraft flew for the first time on Aug. 14, 1974, from Manching airport.

With over 950 aircraft built, the variable sweep bomber is the largest European aeronautical cooperation program, followed today by the Eurofighter Typhoon. The MRCA program, in fact, brought together the three biggest names in the aerospace industry in Great Britain, Germany and Italy, establishing the Panavia consortium and laying the foundations for the birth of a true European aeronautical industry.

The formation as seen by the photoship passing below.

Today, the Tornado is still operated by the German Luftwaffe, the Italian Aeronautica Militare and the Royal Saudi Air Force, while the UK’s Royal Air Force retired it in 2019. The four partner nations accumulated more than three million flight hours, including combat flights in all the modern conflicts.

On Mar. 21, Airbus unveiled a Luftwaffe Tornado IDS with a new special livery for the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the European aircraft. The Tornado combines parts of its different liveries throughout the years, accompanied by the “50 years first flight” writing over a combination of the Italian, British and German roundels.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.