The aging Tornado
On 14 August 1974, the prototype of the Panavia Aircraft GmbH consortium’s Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, as it was called then, made its first flight from Ingolstadt Manching Airport in West Germany.
The tri-national joint development by the BAC in Britain, MBB in West Germany, and Aeritalia in Italy– the front fuselage and tail assembly were assigned to BAC, the center fuselage to MBB, and the wings to Aeritalia– was intended to replace lots of planes in the RAF (BAE Lightning, Canberra, and Vulcan), Luftwaffe/Marineflieger (F-104G), and the Aeronautica Militare (Aeritalia F-104S Starfighter). The Royal Saudi Air Force even picked up 72 airframes in two variants, the type’s only overseas sale.
Entering service as Tornado in July 1980, just under 1,000 were built in all variants for all users. As the RAF and Marineflieger have retired theirs in 2019 and 1995, respectively, and the Saudis, Luftwaffe, and Aeronautica Militare are down to about 350 flyable examples– all slated for imminent replacement by F-35s, F-18E/Fs, and F-15SAs– the likely final swing-wing Western tactical aircraft (the F-111 and F-14 being long gone from the U.S. and Australian service while the last 45 B-1Bs are planned to phase out in the 2031-2033 timeframe) is not long for the air.
The Italians recently saluted the type for 40 years of solid operational service, having arrived in squadron strength in September 1982.
The celebration included a flyover by 10 Tornadoes, led by a bird in a special livery.