ROYAL AIR Force Tornado GR4s have ended operational missions after almost 40 years and the last eight aircraft deployed to RAF Akrotiri, Cyprus, for Operation Shader have returned home to RAF Marham, Norfolk. Five of the aircraft (ZA463 ‘028’, ZA542 ‘035’, ZA597 ‘063’, ZD848 ‘109’and ZG791 ‘137’) flew back on February 4. The remaining three (ZA587 ‘055’, ZA601 ‘066’ and ZD744 ‘092’) returned the following afternoon.
During the last deployment, flown by mixed crews from the two remaining GR4 units, 9 and 31 Squadrons, the type conducted its final operational Operation Shader sortie from Akrotiri on January 31, involving ZA542 and ZA601. Shader, the mission to push the Daesh terrorist group back through Iraq and Syria, had seen the first RAF Tornado GR4 mission from Akrotiri take place on September 27, 2014.
The Tornado will officially be retired from service on March 31 and during the intervening period only training sorties over the UK will be undertaken. As the Tornado GR1 variant, the type had first seen action during the 1991 Gulf War, when 60 of the type were deployed to bases in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. After later being upgraded to GR4 configuration, the type went on to serve over Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.