RAF chief says goodbye to Tornado with final flight

The head of the RAF has paid tribute to the Tornado jet, which “delivered so well on operations around the world”, at the end of a series of flypasts to mark its retirement.

The Tornado, in service for 37 years and first used in combat during the first Gulf War, will retire next month.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, Chief of the Air Staff, completed his final Tornado flight on Thursday.

He piloted the jet from its home base of RAF Marham in Norfolk, flying over RAF Lossiemouth in north-east Scotland before returning to Marham.

After stepping out of the aircraft, he said it was an “emotional day”.

There were handshakes with colleagues, glasses of champagne and he was soaked by the base’s firefighters in an RAF tradition.

RAF Tornado retirement
RAF Tornado retirement

The 56-year-old first took the controls of a Tornado aged 24.

“I remember that day very well and from the first day I flew the Tornado it was something I always wanted to do right through to the last,” said Sir Stephen.

“It’s been tremendous fun, a tremendous opportunity but what an aircraft.

“It’s delivered so well on operations around the world for the Royal Air Force and indeed for the nation.”

He said he was “hugely proud” of the Tornado, and pointed to its record to explain why.

He said: “It’s been in service for 37 years, knocking on for 40% of the RAF’s history, thousands of people have been part of that story, continuously deployed on operations for 28 years, I mean these are just remarkable statistics and I think it’s going to take some time before any other aircraft in the RAF’s inventory surpasses that.”

RAF Tornado retirement
RAF Tornado retirement

He added that Tornados helped reduce the territory occupied by Islamic State “virtually to nothing” in the last four years.

He said there would be no gap in the RAF’s capabilities when Tornados leave service, adding: “I’m absolutely confident we can do what we need to do.”

Station Commander Group Captain Ian “Cab” Townsend said the flypasts were a “fitting way” to say goodbye to Tornados.

A nine-ship formation flight is planned from RAF Marham on February 28.