The Royal Air Force moved closer to a final Tornado farewell as the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) for the type flew its last mission from Lossiemouth airbase in Scotland on Friday. Five Tornados flew a formation flypast over the airbase and other places. The end for the Tornado in the UK is set for 2019.
The OCU was better known as XV (Reserve) squadron and for several decades was responsible for Tornado GR4 crew training in the ground-attack role. Earlier, the squadron was an operational unit, flying Cold War-type combat missions from Germany
Now, only three operational Tornado squadrons remain, all based at RAF Marham. For close, to four decades, the Tornado formed the backbone of the RAF with Tornado F3 variants taking care of air defense while Tornado GR4 jets fulfilled a ground attack role. See our Tornado Time feature here.
The RAF for the next few decades relies on the Eurofighter Typhoon and Lockheed Martin F-35.
The skies over Afghanistan gradually become a little bit more quiet. In September, Belgian Air Component F-16s left Kandahar airbase, following in the foot steps of NATO E-3A Component AWACS aircraft while in July, Dutch F-16s also ended operations. Now, it’s Royal Air Force Panavia Tornados that return home, ending close to five years of consecutive Afghanistan ops.
The six Tornados and their crew belong to 31 squadron, based at RAF Marham in Norfolk. They left Kandahar early morning on Tuesday 11 November, heading toward RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, which by no accident is the airbase that the Royal Air Force currently uses for air strikes against Islamic State (ISIS) forces in Iraq and Syria. After a stopover, the aircraft will return home to the UK.
Over Afghanistan, the aircraft were used for close air support and intelligence gathering, using their Litening III and RAPTOR reconnaissance pods. Over Iraq and Syria, Tornados of 2 squadron target ISIS forces. The deployment of number 2 squadron to Akrotiri meant that disbandment of the unit, planned originally for next March, has been postponed by a year. It’s the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II that will eventually replace the Tornado in the Royal Air Force, with the Royal Navy also set to use the new fighter.
RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland is no longer a frontline airbase for Britain’s Panavia Tornado strike aircraft. The last two operational GR.4 squadrons, 12 (Bomber) and 617 ‘Dambusters’ were disbanded on the base at 28 March 2014.
According to the UK Ministry of Defence 15 (Reserve) Squadron will keep flying from Lossiemouth until 2015 to train Tornado pilots that will move to the only frontline Tornado base left: RAF Marham in England. From there 2, 9 and 31 Squadron will soldier on until the final Tornado interdictor strike aircraft will be retired in 2019.
RAF Lossiemouth will regain its frontline fighter status after the Summer of 2014, when 1F and 6 Squadron flying the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4 move north from their current home at RAF Leuchars. The role of the Tornado GR.4 strike aircraft will be performed by the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II in the future.
In 2016, the famous Dambusters of 617 squadron will reform to fly the F-35B. The squadron will then be located at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
The Royal Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force both join the US air forces in the first large scale Red Flag in the Nevada desert this year, held from 27 January to 14 February. Excellent work is being done by USAF staff photographers and we collected their best shots so far.
RAF Leuchars’s 6 Squadron sent its Eurofighter Typhoon FGR.4s fighters, with Panavia Tornado GR.4s strike aircraft from RAF Marham and a E-3D Sentry Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) from RAF Waddington joining in for the simulated combat. The Royal Australian Air Force sent McDonnell Douglas F/A-18A/B Hornet fighters and the Boeing E-7A Wedgetail AEW&C aircraft.
Very well known with all military aviation enthousiasts: epicentre of the operations is Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, from where the participating aircraft will use the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR). The vast operations theatre consists of 4,700 square miles (7562 km2) of land and 15,000 square miles (24,135 km2) of airspace.
The Royal Air Force opened a nice photo gallery of Red Flag 2014 but from the US Air Force staff photographers we got even more excellent hi-res material which screams to be seen! AIRheads↑Fly sends compliments to the Nellis Air Force Base Public Affairs office, and an especially warm thanks to the photographers: USAF airmen 1st class Jason Couillard, Joshua Kleinholz, Lorenz Crespo and Thomas Spangler.
Royal Air Force Tornados, Armée de l’Air (AdlA) Mirage 2000-5s, Orion maritime patrol aircraft and much more gets airborne on Sunday October 6 in the skies of the United Kingdom as the autumn edition of the joint Anglo-French combat exercise Joint Warrior kicks off.
About 60 to 80 aircraft will take part in the air, sea and ground operations, including 40 aircraft from the Royal Air Force. RAF Wing Commander Steve Boyle responsible for the planning explains: “Joint Warrior simulates a very broad range of evolving crisis and conflict scenarios that could be realistically experienced in current and recent operations. We do this to meet the participant nations training needs.”
Disciplines to display include so-called Composite Air Operations. Aircraft of different types, roles and units fly from varied locations in the UK and France and are combined into one package. When practicing Close Air Support sometimes aircraft will use live weapons. The same goes for the Joint Fires, when ships off the coast, land mortars and combat aircraft will engage targets on the Cape Wrath Weapons Range. Furthermore Joint Warrior will see intelligence gathering and dispatch of imagery and video through other forces, anti-submarine warfare and counter piracy.
Joint Warrior is held twice a year. During the current 11-day joint multinational 2013 autumn edition aircraft will fly from the following locations.
RAF Brize Norton, England
Air-to-air refueling tankers
RAF Lossiemouth, Scotland
RAF Tornado GR4s
US Navy P-3
Royal Canadian Air Force CP-140 Aurora
Aéronautique Navale (French Naval Aviation) Atlantique 2
Marine (German Navy) P-3C
RAF Marham, England
RAF Tornado GR4s
RAF Leeming, England
RAF Typhoons (normally based at RAF Leuchars)
AdlA Mirage 2000Ns
BA116 Luxeuil/St.Sauveur, France
Ships at sea
Corvette L16 Absalon (Denmark, flagship, capable of carrying 2 helicopters), HMS Monmouth, HMS Portland, HMS Somerset, HMS Sutherland, HMS Cattistock, HMS Brocklesby, HMS Bangor, Type 23 Frigate HMS Northumberland and undisclosed ships from the navies of Norway and France.