England

RAF Tornado flypast marks active service retirement

Tornado Image copyright PA
Image caption The Tornado first came into service in 1979, the RAF said

Crowds have gathered to watch the last official flights of the RAF Tornado.

The aircraft will be flown over many of the country's RAF bases in a series of flypasts before leaving active service at the end of March.

Tornados first took to the skies in 1979, seeing action in several conflicts, and were first used in live operations during the Gulf War in 1991.

Hundreds of people turned out to watch the first leg of the aircraft's final farewell.

After leaving its home base of RAF Marham in Norfolk, the aircraft was seen over Rutland, the West Midlands, North Wales, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.

Image copyright Jonathan Burley
Image caption The Tornado, seen here in formation near RAF Cottesmore, will leave active service at the end of March
Image copyright Rick Mosley
Image caption Queues of people waited to see the aircraft, like these in Market Overton, close to RAF Cottesmore
Image copyright Martyn Foss
Image caption The aircraft also flew over DECA Sealand in North Wales
Image copyright PA
Image caption The Tornados fly past the Tornado train near Leeming Bar in Yorkshire

Although no longer to be used in active service, they will still be flown as part of air force training.

"As the Tornados have retired from frontline flying service, we at RAF Cosford have started to take them in because we can use them for engineering in years going forward," Sqn Ldr Chris Wilson explained from the base, which was among points visited on Tuesday.

"Although they won't fly with the air force going forward, they will continue giving excellent service on the ground for many years to come."

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Media captionLarge crowds watch Tornado retirement flypast at RAF Cosford

Olivia Richwald, BBC Look North reporter at RAF Linton-on-Ouse

Spectators and photographers had started turning up and grabbing the best vantage points at RAF Linton-on-Ouse from 9am. They brought flasks, camping chairs and lenses as long as arms; some had travelled for many miles.

Tornado has never been based here in Yorkshire, but the passion people feel for this RAF workhorse is clear to see.

With half an hour to go a crowd of more than 200 had assembled the length of the base perimeter. Many spectators had connections to the Tornado or the RAF.

"Five minutes to go!" shouts the station commander who has inside knowledge: "They're just over Durham Tees Airport."

Small talk tails off, photographers rehearse their shots, and then there's a roar like the sky is being ripped open and three Tornados dart overhead.

Some of the crowd have waited all day and it's over in seconds.

Some of the photographers are disappointed with their shots, the sky had dropped from blue to grey.

They're not, however, disappointed to have seen the Tornado in Yorkshire's skies for the final time.

IX(B) Squadron Wing Cdr James Heeps, who was part of the flypast, added: "It is a great privilege to be part of a national event that allows the public to say farewell to a brilliant aircraft that has been the cornerstone of our operations for so many years.

"It's also a sad occasion because it will mean that from the end of next month the Tornado will never fly again."

Image copyright Ian Knight
Image caption A series of flights over three days will mark the Tornado's retirement
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Aircraft enthusiasts took to a public viewing area on the perimeter of the RAF Leeming base to catch a glimpse of the flypast
Image copyright Phil Dunkerley
Image caption The Tornados, seen here over Leicestershire, will now be used for RAF training
Image copyright Sgt Paul Oldfield
Image caption Tornados at RAF Cosford were moved onto the airfield prior to the flypast

Wing Cmdr Matt Bressani of 31 Squadron added: "The national response to the Tornado farewell campaign and the reception we received when we returned from operations earlier this month shows what a special place this aircraft has in the nation's heart."

The weapons capabilities of the Tornados are now being delivered by RAF Typhoon jets, which will form the "backbone" of the UK's combat air fleet, the RAF said, alongside a new fleet of F-35 Lighting jets.

The flights will continue over the next two days.

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