As the Royal Air Force were taking delivery of their first Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II jets in the summer of 2018, their home base at RAF Marham was also preparing to bid a sad farewell to the Panavia Tornado GR.4, an aircraft which has served with distinction for almost 40 years. As the oldest dedicated bomber squadron in the RAF, it is fitting that No.IX(B) Squadron would have the honour of being one of the last to operate the Tornado, particularly as it was also the first unit to receive the then new Tornado GR.1 back in June 1982.
As the RAF Tornado’s retirement date approached, the squadron marked their long association with the aircraft by specially presenting Tornado GR.4 ZG775 in a striking retirement scheme, which featured the silhouette of a Tornado with its wings fully swept back on its tail, overpainted with the squadron’s distinctive green bat crest. With its motto ‘Through the night we fly’, No.IX(B) Squadron has been associated with some of the RAF’s most iconic bomber aircraft, such as the Avro Lancaster, English Electric Canberra and Avro Vulcan, but after operating the Panavia Tornado for almost 37 years, this magnificent strike jet must now take its place at the head of this illustrious group. Unfortunately for aviation enthusiasts, ZG775 was one of the four Tornados which did not take part in the massed formation flypast which took place at RAF Marham on 28th February 2019.
Underlining the operational effectiveness of the RAF’s Panavia Tornado strike jets, despite the fact that the aircraft was scheduled to be withdrawn from service at the end of March 2019, the last eight aircraft only returned to RAF Marham from their final overseas deployment in early February. Flying from Akrotiri in Cyprus, the aircraft had been flying missions over the Iraqi – Syrian border, in support of Operation SHADER, the culmination of almost 28 years of continuous active service.
Arguably, on the eve of its retirement, the Tornado GR4 was more effective a strike and reconnaissance aircraft than it had ever been and whilst its retirement was met with sadness by the crews who had flown and worked on this magnificent aircraft, there was also great pride in commemorating its illustrious service achievements. As the sun finally set on the service career of the RAF Tornado, the ‘Bats’ of No.IX(B) Squadron will continue to fly on, using a different aircraft, in a different role and operating from a new home. As the Squadron Commander lowered the pennant at Marham on 1st April 2019, No. IX(B) Squadron simultaneously re-formed at RAF Lossiemouth, where they will operate the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 in the air defence and aggressor roles, continuing the unbroken service of this famous squadron.