Crowds flock to Suffolk airbase to wave goodbye to the Tornado
PUBLISHED: 16:26 20 February 2019 | UPDATED: 17:27 20 February 2019
Copyright: Archant 2019
Crowds of people flocked to RAF Honington today to wave goodbye to the Tornado jet on the aircraft's farewell tour.
Three jets soared above the Suffolk airbase, near Bury St Edmunds, around 1.10pm as part of the three-day nationwide flypast before heading to Duxford to celebrate the end of the plane’s era.
The jet is being retired after nearly 40 years of Royal Air Force (RAF) service, and will be replaced by the F-35 Lightning.
The aircraft has a special affiliation with RAF Honington as the air force’s first operational squadron was set up at the base in 1982.
The Tornado continued to be flown by No.13 Squadron from Honington until the station ceased flying operations in 1994.
Matt Radnall, RAF Honington station commander, said: “It’s a privilege to be involved in such an event. The Tornado has a close affinity with RAF Honington, the very first operational squadron formed here in 1982 and the Tornado flew from here until 1994.
“So there’s a lot of people in the local community and still serving at the station who remember the days of the Tornado flying from RAF Honington.
“For most people in service today, it’s always been there as a back bone of our air power and there are thousands of people still in service and in former service who have been involved in flying the aircraft, servicing it, maintaining it, and supporting in one way or another over the years.
“So it’s not surprising to me that there are so many people interested in saying farewell today.”
Designed by Panavia, the aircraft was a collaboration between the UK, Germany and Italy – coming into RAF service in 1979.
It saw combat during the Gulf War of 1991, while also flying operations over Kosovo, Iraq and Syria.
A flight of Tornado jets returned home to the UK for the last time on February 5, landing at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
Retired wing commander Andrew Tucker, who lives in Bury St Edmunds, called the Tornado a “remarkable aircraft”.
“During my 32 years of RAF service I was fortunate to have Tornado flying tours in Germany during the Cold War 1980s, at RAF Marham in Norfolk and here at RAF Honington,” he said.
“I joined No. 13 Sqn when it formed at RAF Honington in Jan 1990 and I flew with the sqn during the 1991 First Gulf War.’
“The Tornado cockpit was my ‘office’ and I was always very comfortable flying this remarkable aircraft.
“Once strapped in, with anti-G, oxygen and communications all connected, man and machine became one and was an incredibly capable asset.
“Though I am sorry to see the Tornado retire it has served the UK extremely well for 40 years to the credit of all RAF trades – aircrew, engineers, suppliers, administrators, who all had an input in keeping the Tornado Force in the air.”
Flight Lieutenant Ady Hargreaves, weapons system operator at RAF Marham in Norfolk, said there was “a tinge of sadness” at saying goodbye to the jet.
“Those who have been around it a long time will be sad to see it go but it has come to the end of its natural life,” he said.
“It’s leaving at the top of its game, and there’s a great sense of achievement that it’s a job well done for the jet.”
Former RAF officer Debbie Bowles’ husband was killed in a Tornado following a collision with another aircraft over the North Sea in August 1990, while operating from Honington.
Flight navigator John ‘Stan’ Bowles was one of three people who died in the mid-air collision, the pilot of the other aircraft was the only person to survive the crash.
Mrs Bowles, who lives in Bury St Edmunds, said: “This is where he flew from, the Tornado itself was his aircraft.
“But I served in the RAF myself and I have feelings about it personally that it’s the end of a generation, perhaps my generation, in the RAF because it came into service about the time I joined so it’s perhaps the end of my connection with the service as well.”
The three-day farewell flypast ends tomorrow with visits to Leuchars Station, RAF Tain and RAF Lossiemouth.