Following the disbandment of the Tornado, Group Captain (Rtd) Ray Goodall shares his memories of flying as a navigator in this much-loved aircraft as part of the Diamond Nine formation.
These past few weeks social media has been awash with memories, videos and photographs of the Tornado GR4 as the jet approaches retirement on 14 March. In mid February, a few days prior to the last Tornado Diamond Nine formation being planned to fly over RAFC Cranwell for a graduation parade and then across RAF Marham as part of the jet's end-of-service celebrations, a newspaper article reporting on the first ever Tornado diamond nine formation was posted on Facebook.
The first Tornado diamond nine was flown on 16 June 1984 over Buckingham Palace as part of the Queen's Official Birthday celebrations. Tam Hazan, a previous Squadron (Sqn) mate of mine who is now retired living in New Zealand, posted the Facebook article with some pride as he was the navigator flying in the number six position. I was the navigator flying number seven along with my pilot Paul Carroll.
Despite some 35 years separating the two nine ship formations there were a few similarities: both formations were launched from RAF Marham with the first being flown by aircrews from IX(B) Sqn and 27 Sqn, the first two founder RAF Tornado Sqns. IX(B) Sqn were based at RAF Honington in 1984 but positioned at Marham for the event.
Aircrews from the remaining last two Tornado GR4 Sqns, IX(B) Sqn and 31 Sqn were to fly the last nine ship. As someone who flew three tours with IX(B) Sqn I take satisfaction in knowing IX(B) were the first operational Tornado Sqn and will also be the last.
So, as a member of the first Tornado Diamond Nine formation, and with memories rekindled by Tam's Facebook post, I thought it was right that I should be at the RAF College to witness the last. As I arrived at Cranwell the Lincolnshire February weather was far from perfect with a very low cloud base and haze below that.
I knew that only the lead crew would be working hard on finding the College and being on time as everyone else will be concentrating on maintaining formation. As I remember back to 1984 the weather over London behaved a lot better but nonetheless it was the lead crew, Wg Cdr John Grogan, OC 27 Sqn, and his back seater Sqn Ldr Pete Goodman who were ensuring we flew over Her Majesty on time whilst the aircrew in the other eight jets concentrated on holding their formation.
True to form the Diamond nine appeared out of the murky horizon and flew fast and low over the RAF College exactly on time looking splendid and tight. What a sight. The only thing that caught me by surprise in seeing the wonderful spectacle of nine Tornado GR4s in close formation were the many emotions that suddenly hit me realising that this was the last time. The mighty Fin, the Tornado, is being retired. Looking back, it is now with some pride I recall the privilege of flying in that first Tornado diamond nine formation and I'm so happy that I took the time to witness the last.
By Group Captain (Rtd) Ray Goodall