RAF Marham, Tonka FINale

Prose & Photography: Robert Griffiths


Sometimes it's hard to admit to yourself that you are getting on in years, especially when an aircraft you remember so abundantly in your youth is now retiring from active service. Entering Royal Air Force service in 1979, the Panavia Tornado was the next strike aircraft; not just for the RAF, but also the German and Italian Air Forces. This twin engine, twin seat, swing-wing aircraft boasted a large dorsal fin which over the years would coin one of its many names, The Mighty Fin. The Tornado was also nicknamed ‘Tonka’ recalling the image of the built-to-last toy trucks; apt, considering their service record.

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Nearing 40 years of sterling service and involved in every major conflict since Desert Storm/Operation Granby in 1991, the Tornado is now entering the final days of its life in RAF service.  Recently, numbers 31 and 9 squadron RAF gave a spectacular send off to the remaining Mighty Fins at their home base RAF Marham, Norfolk, England.

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Despite dark flat skies and the threat of rain, it really didn’t dampen the spirits of the 1000+ people who came to see the final mass launch and flypasts by 9 airframes. Overall 11 Tornado GR4s launched on February 28th, a spectacular feat and an absolute testament to the maintainers of these aircraft. I, myself, would like to extend my thanks and gratitude to everyone involved, from the maintainers' amazing efforts for the day, to the crews for their service, and the OC and his Media team for the engagement throughout this period of the Tornado’s retirement. I know that many thousands who were there that day and many more that couldn’t are also thankful for the efforts of those at RAF Marham.

Will we ever see such a send off in the future? That’s a difficult question, but I would sure like to see such efforts.