As the RAF bid farewell to the Tornado fast jet with its final flight, Lead Area Director Neil Tomlin recalls his time stationed with the iconic aircraft at RAF Marham which led to the realisation of a boyhood ambition.
The reason I joined the Royal Air Force was to fly the Tornado GR1 so I was thrilled to land the job of Squadron Ops Officer on XIII Squadron based at RAF Marham in the early part of my career. Even though it was a ground-based role, organising low-flying clearances, liaising with engineering sections and providing briefs to the Army regarding the aircraft’s reconnaissance capability, I loved my time working with this fantastic aircraft.
When my posting at Marham came to an end, I was granted the opportunity to show what I had learnt over my 12 months on the Squadron via a training flight which I planned and navigated from the navigator’s cockpit in a dual-controlled Tornado training aircraft.
The sortie, flown as a 'two-ship' with another Tornado aircraft in close formation, took us through east coast weapons ranges, before climbing to altitude to refuel from one of the RAF’s refuelling fleet. Having taken our fuel on board, we held station while both our sister aircraft and then an E3D Sentry aircraft followed suit against a backdrop of 'gin clear' blue sky.
Fully fuelled, we descended into the low-flying system once again and enjoyed spectacular low-flying conditions through the hills and valleys of the Lake District.
Despite having now been superseded by the F35 Lightning II, the Tornado GR1/4 remains, to me, the most iconic aircraft of the post-Cold War era. Fast, agile and with a highly impressive record of operational achievements, the nation owes much to this aircraft and to the crews who always operated it to its maximum potential – on the edge of the operational envelope.
Having served with the Tornado so early in my RAF career and then later in a support role as the Officer Commanding Base Support Wing at RAF Marham, I will be tremendously sad to see the aircraft retired, and it will be an especially poignant moment for me as my own RAF career comes to an end after 28 very happy years.
Similarly, I suspect the local community who have held the aircraft very close to their hearts throughout its service (and despite the noise) will feel sad to see its last flight. Per Ardua Ad Astra.