A FORMAL disbandment parade was held today, March 14, at RAF Marham, Norfolk, for No IX(B) and 31 Squadrons, the final two units operating the Tornado in RAF service. A flypast at the end of the parade by Tornado GR4 ZA463 ‘028’ also marked the last scheduled flight by an RAF Tornado.
Up to 850 guests gathered in a hangar at Marham to see two ‘flights’, one from each Squadron, march on accompanied by the Band of the RAF College Cranwell. The parade was led on by Parade Commander Wing Commander Gatland, Chief of Staff of the Tornado GR Force Headquarters with Wing Commander Heeps, Officer Commanding IX(B) Squadron, and Wing Commander Bressani, Officer Commanding 31 Squadron, leading in their respective Squadrons.
Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier was the reviewing officer for the parade and during his inspection he presented Operation Shader medals to 12 personnel. The award of the Operation Shader medal without clasp was approved by Her Majesty the Queen in February and is awarded to personnel assessed as making a significant and direct operational contribution but operating outside the Joint Operational Area to Operation Shader.
The aircrew who flew the final aircraft, Squadron Leader Ian Dornan and Squadron Leader Stephen Beardmore, said “It was an honour and a privilege to be the crew to fly this iconic jet for the very last time and the fact that we have been able to conduct these flypasts is testament to the hard work that has been put in by the engineers to ensure the jets were serviceable. It has been fantastic to see the support that we have received from the public over the last few weeks with the FINale flypasts as they gathered across the UK to say goodbye. It was quite emotional knowing that we would be landing this amazing aircraft for the very last time. The skies over Norfolk and the UK are going to be a lot emptier without her.” After landing, he aircrew taxied up to the hangar where they were greeted by CAS as they disembarked the aircraft for the final time.
Following the official out-of-service date for the Tornado on March 31, IX(B) Squadron will officially become a Typhoon squadron at RAF Lossiemouth, Moray, on April 1. No 31 Squadron will re-form in 2024 to operate the new Protector RG1 unmanned air vehicle and be based at RAF Waddington, Lincolnshire.
As previously reported on Warnsey’s World, the Tornado flew its last operational mission as part of Operation Shader on January 31, following which the deployed aircraft returned home to Marham on February 4 and 5. Since then, only local training missions in the UK have been flown and these two ended last Friday, March 8, since when no further flying took place until today’s farewell flypast with a single aircraft.
The Tornado has been on almost continuous operations since deploying on Operation Granby in 1990, following which it returned to the UK on March 2, 1991. They deployed on Operation Jural, the southern Iraq No-fly Zone, in August 1992 and maintained a presence in the Middle East until withdrawn from Iraq on May 31, 2009. There was a short hiatus until they redeployed to Kandahar in Afghanistan as part of Operation Herrick on July 6, 2009, until their end of mission and return to the UK in November 2014. The Tornado has also been used in Kosovo in 1999 and in March 2011 it flew against targets inside Libya. Flying 3,000 miles from its base at RAF Marham these missions were described as “the longest-range bombing mission conducted by the RAF since the Falklands conflict”.
Since 1990 until its final mission on January 31, 2018, Tornado has flown 185,603 hours on operations. Tornado Force air strikes on Syria commenced on December 2, 2015. The Tornado deployment on Operation Shader began with the first aircraft arriving in RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus on August 12, 2014, and the first operational sortie was flown over Iraq the following day. total of 41 different Tornado aircraft have flown in support of Op SHADER and the deployed force has been commanded by seven different OCs.