Tag Archives: Royal Air Force

The Royal Air Force Has Just Rolled Out Another Tornado GR4 In Special Color Scheme

The Royal Air Force has just unveiled another special-colored “Tonka” ahead of the retirement of the aircraft from active service in March 2019.

Few days after the IX(B) Sqn unveiled theirs, the 31 Sqn, also based at RAF Marham, and one of the remaining Tornado units in RAF service, rolled out the aircraft ZD716/DH with a special livery that celebrates the 34 years of operations with the multirole aircraft.

The “Goldstars” have operated the Tornado since 1984, initially from RAF Bruggen, Germany, and then from RAF Marham since August 2001. Following the retirement of the Tornado, in March next year, 31 Squadron will stand down after 35 years of Tonka operations but will in due course reform to operate the Protector RG.1, the RAF designation for the MQ-9B SkyGuardian.

During this more than three decades of operations with the Tornado, 31 Squadron has taken part in the 1991 Gulf War and the Squadron has continued to fly on regular operations over Iraq. It also specialised in the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) role with the Air Launched Anti Radiation Missile ALARM Anti Radiation Missile. Then, in 1999, during Allied Force operation over Serbia and Kosovo, the Sqn operated from Solenzara airbase, in Corsica. After moving to RAF Marham in 2001, the squadron took part in Operation Resinate South and Operation Telic over Iraq. In 2005, the Squadron became the lead RAF Tornado GR4 unit to accept the Brimstone missiles into service, a weapon that was widely used by the RAF Tornado in combat beginning in 2011, during the Libya Air War, and later in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The tail section of the special-colored Tornado GR4 of 31 Sqn. (Image credit: RAF/Crown Copyright)

As already explained in a previous post, “Tonka” is an unofficial nickname of the British GR1 and GR4 aircraft, earned by the aircraft in the early days of service (beginning of the 1980s).

Top image: Crown Copyright/RAF

RAF Tornado GR4 In Special Color Scheme Celebrates +36 Years Of Tonka Operations (Ahead Of Retirement in 2019)

Amazing color scheme for this IX(B) Sqn “Tonka” at RAF Marham.

With the arrival of the first F-35B Lightning 5th generation aircraft, the Royal Air Force prepares to retire one of its most important and famous types: the Tornado GR4.

The last aircraft will be retired from active service next year. In order to celebrate +36 years of Tornado operations, the IX(B) Squadron, based at RAF Marham, pained the Tornado GR4 ZG775/AF in a special color scheme.

IX(B) Sqn moved to its current home base after the closure of RAF Brüggen, Germany, on July 17 2001. According to the RAF website “the Squadron deployed to Kuwait in February 2003 and was heavily involved in the second Gulf War as part of the Ali-Al Salem Combat Air Wing. From 2004 to 2010, IX (B) Squadron deployed annually to support Operation TELIC, in support of Allied troops on the ground in Iraq. The Squadron was also involved in Operation HERRICK, from 2008 to 2014, delivering Close Air Support over Afghanistan. In March 2011 the Squadron led the first long-range Storm Shadow mission in Libya on Operation ELLAMY, and deployed to Gioia del Colle, Italy, at the end of that year. In 2015, the Squadron deployed on Operation SHADER, and was the first to attack Syrian oilfields after Parliament’s vote on Dec. 2, 2015 to widen the air operation against D’aesh. That very night 16 targets were struck, 2 hours and 51 minutes after the vote returned overwhelming support.”

By the way, British Tornado attack planes are dubbed “Tonka”, an unofficial nickname that dates back to the early days of service. Here’s what a former RAF service member wrote on a modellers forum years ago about this nick:

“I joined the RAF in 1983, I did my training alongside ex-Tonka linies, they called them Tonkas so it pre-dates 1983, we all called them Tonka’s, everybody in the RAF called them Tonka’s, I’m always gonna call them Tonka’s – I ain’t never gonna call them by their proper name.”

Top image: Crown Copyright/RAF

Former Royal Air Force C-130J Appears in Royal Bahraini Air Force Colors

This is the first of two RAF Hercules C5 aircraft sold to Bahrain.

Taken at Cambridge airport on Friday Oct. 26, by The Aviationist’s contributor Tony Lovelock, the image in this post shows a RBAF Hercules C5 Amin Flight “702” lining up prior to take of for a 3 hour flight test from Marshall Aerospace Group facilities. The aircraft, that should be delivered to Bahrain this week, was previously Royal Air Force C5 ZH886, one of the ten C-130J Super Hercules Britain decided to withdraw from service after a major defense and security review in 2015.

Two former RAF C-130J cargo aircraft were sold to Bahrain as part of a 30M GBP contract inked in August 2017.  Indeed, there are two Hercules C5 now registered to the Bahrain Amin flight, the other being coded, Amin flight 701, formerly ZH880.

Personnel from the RBAF have completed training at RAF No. 24 Squadron at RAF Brize Norton, UK, earlier this year.

Actually, the export of the two C-130s has been under fire in the UK, since Bahrain is involved in the Saudi-led air campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen and the sale of these aircraft represents, according to Rights Groups an “unequivocal statement of political and military support for the Bahraini regime.”

Top image credit: Tony Lovelock



UK F-35B Performs World’s First Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing During HMS Queen Elizabeth Trials

The F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) achieved a new milestone performing a Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) on aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

On Oct. 13, an F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter performed the first  Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth, as part of the ongoing First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing), or FOCFT (FW). BAE Systems test pilot Pete “wizzer” Wilson, achieved the F-35B’s first real SRVL touching down at about 40 knots and decelerating to a standstill in about 175 feet.

Britain’s newest aircraft carrier (able to accommodate up to 24 F-35Bs out of the planned 138 F-35 Lightning jets) and the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) are conducting a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations to develop the F-35B operating envelope for QEC carriers.

A composite image of the first SRVL.

Among the most important parts of the trials are the rolling vertical landings: as the acronym suggests, STOVL aircraft use the vertical landing to return to the ship. Using this kind of procedure, the approaching aircraft slowly reaches a hovering position to the port side of the ship before moving sideways over the deck and descending slowly. This technique has pretty strict weight requirements because of the thrust required to keep the aircraft airborne the time needed to put the wheels down. The rolling technique is intended to allow pilots to recover to the ship with more stores: the combination of thrust from its rotating nozzle, lift-fan and lift generated by the wing as an effect of the (slow) forward movement of the aircraft can save up to 7000lbs greater all up weight (UAW). Without the SRVL technique, the F-35B would be forced to jettison some or all of its external store when returning to the ship.

According to some sources the Soviet Yak-38 “Forger” jets could perform rolling landings on carrier decks but required the use of a safety barrier net; however, it’s not clear whether actual tests were conducted at sea.

In order to prepare to the first SRVL pilots and engineers tested the new technique using BAE Systems’ F-35/QEC Integration Simulator—a full motion, dome simulator—based in Warton, England. Some 3,000 takeoffs and landings were important to discover “where the edges of the test envelope are,” said Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, FOCFT (FW) lead test pilot at the Pax River ITF.

“SRVL tests are truly experimental,” Edgell said. “It involves landing a fast jet onto an aircraft carrier with forward relative speed but without the braking assistance typically provided by an arresting gear and hook. It’s going to be a really rewarding moment for British aviation to watch that procedure actually take place.”

Back in 2007, Qinetiq’s VAAC Harrier testbed was used by the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre using a “dummy deck” at Qinetiq’s Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire, to assess the possibility to perform SRVL approaches as a way to use thrust-vectoring to a slow speed while still gaining the benefit of wing-borne lift.

The UK is the only nation currently planning to use the SRVL technique. However, the US Marine Corps and the Italian Navy (which should operate the F-35B to replace the AV-8B+ Harrier II from Italy’s Cavour aircraft carrier in the future) might take advantage of the rolling landing in the future, leveraging the testing conducted by the F-35 ITF aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Following the crash occurred on Sept. 28 and involving a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B, the U.S. Services and international partners temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while conducting a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft. British F-35Bs involved in the flight trials from HMS Queen Elizabeth and Italian F-35 were not grounded though, as inspections did not find the faulty part.

Top image credit: Royal Navy / Crown Copyright

Observing The British F-35B Lightning At Work At RAF Marham

Spotting outside RAF Marham, home of the UK’s stealth aircraft, on an ordinary day.

On Tuesday Sept. 25 afternoon, The Aviationist’s contributor Alessandro Fucito went to RAF Marham, near the village of Marham in the English county of Norfolk, East Anglia, UK, to take some photographs of the first British F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) stealth jets based there.

Whilst test pilots at the F-35 Integrated Test Force at NAS Patuxent River, Md. are involved in the first of two First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing) phases, performing a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations on board HMS Queen Elizabeth to develop the F-35B operating envelope for Britain’s newest aircraft carriers, the 617 Sqn at RAF Marham has eventually ramped up flying activity to achieve initial operating capability (IOC) from land bases. Indeed, there is still a lot to do, considered that the UK-based F-35Bs have flown less than expected during the summer: as reported by Aviation Week’s Tony Osborne recently, none of the UK-based aircraft has flown for 34 consecutive days, from Jul. 26 to Aug. 29 (not including the arrival of five F-35Bs belonging to the second batch which arrived from the U.S. on Aug. 3)!

Side view for the F-35B ZM147 performing pattern work at RAF Marham on Sept. 25. (All images: Alessandro Fucito).

According to Osborne, little flying preceded the “mysterious month-long flying break”, considered that just 21 or 22 flights were flown up to July 26 (mainly local training sorties as well as the first vertical landings), including sorties flown in support of air show display flyovers. “The UK defense ministry insists the break in flying is a result of extensive maintenance checks and personnel on leave. But when the first batch of aircraft arrived in June, crews said they were expecting an intensive flying regime to achieve IOC,” commented Osborne.

Conventional approach to RWY19.

That said, our contributor Fucito has counted two F-35 sorties (and three Tornado ones) even though the Lightning jet was the same, ZM147, flying both missions. During each flight, the pilot has practiced three approaches, both in conventional and STOVL configuration, to the runway in use (RWY 01/19, the one that is used for short takeoffs and vertical landings, the other one, the 06/24 was closed for works). For those interested, the aircraft sported the type’s three Luneburg lenses (radar reflectors).

F-35B ZM147 configured for a Vertical Landing.

Although the activity was far from being “intense” at least the two F-35 sorties provided an opportunity for some interesting shots that you can find in this post.

The F-35B flew two sorties on Sept. 25: each included three approaches, both conventional and in Vertical Landing configuration.

As a side note, although they have not been grounded after a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B has crashed in the US, someone has noticed that there was no Lightning activity at RAF Marham this week.