The RAF Panavia Tornado GR4 will be permanently retired from active service in March 2019. As homage to its almost 40 years of service, a “farewell flypast” is taking place between February 19 and 21, 2019.

A group of Tornados is currently on a tour over several sites that were keys to the iconic aircraft, allowing people to give it a last farewell.

The last British Tornado deployed returned from RAF Akrotiri air base in Cyprus to the United Kingdom on February 5, 2019. It was taking part into Operation Shader, the contribution of the United Kingdom in the fight against ISIL.

The Tornado was used for the first time in operation by the Royal Air Force in 1991, during the Gulf War. It was also deployed in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.

In recent years, its most memorable mission was to carry out strikes against the Syrian regime in April 2018, in a joint operation between the United States, France and the United Kingdom, following an alleged use of chemical weapons on the population by the regime.

An iconic aircraft

The Tornado was developed in the 1970s by the consortium PANAVIA regrouping Germany (Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm now Airbus 42.5%), the United Kingdom (BAC now BAE Systems 42.5% ) and Italy (Fiat Aviazione, now Leonardo 15% ) and supervised by the NATO Multirole Combat Aircraft Development and Production Management Agency (NAMMA).

The aircraft can carry a significant payload, and is characterized by a variable wing and double flow reactors with thrust reversers, giving it a good performance, both in terms of speed and in range. It was mainly used for air-to-ground missions from medium altitude. Throughout the years, the airframe has been upgraded with the latest avionics to reach the current GR4 standard.

Crown copyright 2019 ©

The Tornado has been kept in service until the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35 were able to take over as multirole platforms.

Thanks to the £425 million "Centurion" program, the Typhoon is now capable of carrying three weapons that were, until now, allocated to the Tornado: the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile, the Stormshadow cruise missile and the Brimstone light air-to-ground missile, all three made by European missile manufacturer MBDA.

Now that the last 17 Tornado GR4 of the Royal Air Force are to be retired, Germany, Italy and Saudi Arabia remain the last operators. While Italy is due to eventually replace its Tornados with Lockheed Martin F-35, Germany has yet to pick a successor between the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

The Luftwaffe Tornados are to be phased out from 2025. This replacement comes as an emergency. A report of the German Ministry of Defense published by Der Spiegel in April 2018 stated that the aircraft were now too outdated to participate in future NATO missions.

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The German newspaper Der Spiegel accessed a report from the Ministry of Defense stating that the 93 Panavia Tornados currently in use by the Luftwaffe need more urgent modernization than planned. The aircraft entered service in the 1970s, and their outdated internals could now compromise their use during a NATO operation.