LATEST UPDATE 20 AUGUST 2014 | While the Italian Air Force suffers losses on 19 August amongst its Panavia Tornado aircraft and crew in a mid-air collision, this one of NATO’s mainstay combat jets of the Cold War celebrates 40 years in the skies. On 14 August 1974 the first aircraft of the type got airborne at Manching in southern Germany, starting the beginning of a long service life as interdictor-strike (IDS), air-defence fighter (ADV), naval strike, tactical reconnaissance jet and electronic warfare platform (ECR).
What the F-16 became for the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Norway was the Tornado for Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. The first serious attempt of the old West-European NATO countries to standardize their main fighting power in order to make combat operations easier in case it would ever come to a clash with the then mighty Warsaw Pact military alliance in Eastern Europe.
Two features have made the Tornado in a way much cooler than the F-16. The Panavia jet has wings that can sweep back and forth in flight and the Tornado has fun looking trust-reversers (buckets) to slow down the aircraft after landing.
The European countries built almost a thousand Tornado jets, selling 48 of the interdictor-strike and 24 of the air-defence version to the Royal Saudi Air Force along the way. With the downsizing after the cold war many of the Panavia aircraft have been decommissioned. For example: German Navy lost its entire fast strike capability, while the German Air Force currently only has 85 of the original 349 Tornados still on strength.
In the UK the Eurofighter Typhoon has taken over the air-defence role from the Tornado, while the Royal Air Force priorities to keep only 59 of its 124 GR4 up to date with the latest modifications such as the Paveway IV strike capability. Just like with the remaining British Tornados and most of the F-16s fighters the 62 Italian Air Force Tornado IDS and 15 ECR versions are destined to make way for a fighter of the new generation the coming years: the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
But in contrary to many modern, more manoeuvrable and fairly cost-efficient F-16s still going strong for years to come with many air forces outside the NATO core countries, the Panavia Tornado is heading for a fairly quick extinction. Its habitat is limited, its future will likely only be preserved in museums and near the fence of a few airbases: on a pole as gate guard.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger