In the past week, I’ve received emails from the Kunovice Air Museum telling me of a couple of recent developments that should make the upcoming 2019 season an interesting one.
2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the prototype of the very successful Let L-410 aircraft. In honour of the event, the museum is having that prototype restored to the appearance it had for that first flight.
Here is the content of that email translated into English:
7 March 2019: Renovation of the first L-410 fifty years after its first flight
Let me inform you that, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first flight of the Let L-410 Turbolet, the Kunovice Aviation Museum in cooperation with Aircraft Industries, a.s., Town of Kunovice and SimplyFin company have launched the renovation of one of the museum’s exhibits: the first prototype of this very successful Czech aircraft.
For a respectable half-century since its first flight, this timeless design has been built in a wide range of variants and given many upgrades. Currently, the L-410 NG represents the latest version and has retained the best qualities of the L-410 family.
The first of the four-tens, LET XL-410 Turbolet c.n. 001, has survived to the present thanks to our forbears in the museum. However, more than four decades spent in the open air has taken a significant toll on it. It’s great that, thanks to the manufacturer’s interest, this state of affairs will change for the better. Additionally, experts from the factory who know the aircraft very well will contribute to the restoration of it. said Martin Hrabec, head of the Kunovice Aircraft Museum.
Management of Aircraft Industries, a.s. supports the restoration of the first L-410 to the appearance it had when it took to the air for the first time on April 16, 1969.
Our big thanks goes to Mrs. Ilona Plšková, General Director of Aircraft Industries, for her kind support in returning the shine to the first prototype. added Hrabec.
The two-engine LET L-410 Turbolet transport aircraft, which was designed in the Kunovice factory, is the flagship product of Kunovice’s airline manufacturer Aircraft Industries, a.s. to this day. It is an extremely rugged transport airplane with a capacity of up to 19 passengers, which has been successfully operated in the most demanding conditions in more than 60 countries on five continents worldwide. Over 1250 examples of the type have been produced and its production continues.
We hope this information is interesting to you.
Thanks for cooperation.
Sincerely, Martin Hrabec for LMKU
Another exciting development at the museum was the use of their Tupolev Tu-154M as a set for some scenes in an upcoming Czech film.
8 March 2019: Nagano Express in the Spotlight – Movie shooting in LMKU
Let me inform you that on March 3, 2019 the Air Museum in Kunovice, specifically the TU-154M airplane named “Zuzana” or also “Nagano Express”, were the site of shooting scenes for a new Czech comedy based on the bestselling book by Evžen Boček, The Last Aristocrat. The film is directed by Jiří Vejdělek, director of some of the biggest Czech box office hits in the last few years. Vejdělek has directed such Czech film hits as: Účastníci Zájezdu (Holiday Makers), Ženy v Pokušení (Women in Temptation) and Muži v Naději (Men in Hope) among others.
The exterior and interior of the Nagano Express served as a set for Jiří Vejdělek’s film crew to shoot several scenes with the main characters of the film. The scenes shot in the museum were captured by the camera of Vladimír Smutný, who has the cinematography of such films as Kolja, Tobruk, Tmavomodrý Svět (Dark Blue World) and Vratné Lahve (Empties) among others to his credit. A number of famous Czech stars such as Tatiana Vilhelmová, Hynek Čermák, Yvona Stolářová, Anna Polívková, Vojtěch Kotek and Michal Isteník will appear in the film.
Filming took place from early morning until evening and was attended by 70 filmmaking staff, plus over 70 extras. Eleven members of the museum team helped the ensemble and the Slovácký aeroklub of Kunovice also cooperated by providing the use of its facilities to the film staff and extras.
In the evening, after the last shoot, director Jiří Vejledek said, “Thank you for the great helpfulness with which the museum team provided us. The professional approach of the entire museum team contributed to smooth shooting. In the end, you’ll be able to check the result in fall in cinemas.”
“Our whole team gives thanks to the filmmakers for the perfect collaboration and mostly for the respect they showed to our significant exhibit. We wish the director and the entire crew a successful finish to the filming. We are very much looking forward to going to cinema in October for the new comedy, ‘The Last Aristocrat’. We are very curious how nice our Zuzana will look in the film.” Martin Hrabec said after filming.
This precious visit was something of a gift for the museum because it happened exactly a year to the day that the “Nagano Express” was towed from the area of the Slovácko Aeroklub into the museum grounds to its current place.
The production crew of the film revealed to us that the new Czech comedy, The Last Aristocrat, will premier in Czech cinemas on October 24, 2019.
We believe this information is of interest to you.
Sincerely, Martin Hrabec for LMKU
A brief synopsis in English of The Last Aristocrat can be found through this link:
This week saw the final retirement of the Royal Air Force’s Panavia Tornado fleet. A month of formation flypasts of key RAF stations with strong connections to the type by the last remaining Tornados culminated in a final retirement ceremony at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
This week’s retirement marks the true end of the Tornado era in the RAF. The air defense variant of the Tornado, which was built to meet RAF needs specifically, was retired in 2012.
The ground attack and recconaissance versions of the Tornado entered RAF service in the early 1980s and replaced the last remaining Avro Vulcan bombers, the Sepecat Jaguar in the strike and recconaissance roles in RAF’s German operations and Blackburn Buccaneer in the maritime strike role.
The air defense version replaced the McDonnell Douglas Phantom II and the last of the English Electric Lightning aircraft in the interceptor role.
For more than four decades, the Tornado served not only the needs of the RAF, but also those of NATO and other allies.
While the air defense variant of the Tornado has already been fully replaced with the Eurofighter Typhoon, the ground attack and recconaissance versions will largely be replaced with the Lockheed-Martin F-35.
The Tornado will continue to serve with Germany, Italy and Suadi Arabia until the late 2020s or early 2030s.
I’m a bit late posting this, but an important aviator marked their birthday this past week.
Monday, the 25th of February, marked the 96th birthday of Major-General Emil Boček. Major-General Boček was one of the many Czechoslovak airmen who escaped their occupied homeland during the Second World War and fled to Great Britain to bolster the ranks of the Royal Air Force. Boček is the last surviving of those pilots.
This is a link to a video that was made on Boček’s 93rd birthday, when he flew in a Spitfire for the first time since leaving the RAF 70 years prior:
In the video, mention is made of another pilot, Brigadier-General Miroslav Liškutín, who’s passing in February of 2018 left Boček as the last surviving of those heroic Czechoslovak pilots.
During 2019, it is planned that Boček will be promoted to a full General and will be presented with the Order of the White Lion – First Class, the highest honour the Czech Republic can bestow on its citizens.
On February 16 of 2019, BMI Regional airlines announced the complete cessation of their operations due to bankruptcy.
Established in 1987, under the name Business Air, the airline went through a number of name and ownership changes in its history.
Business Air was purchased by British Midland International airlines in 1998 and renamed British Midland Commuter. The airline was renamed BMI Regional in 2001.
Lufthansa took full ownership of BMI Regional in late 2009 and set about a substantial amount of restructuring that included abandoning non-profitable routes and cutting staff.
In 2012, BMI Regional was purchased by Sector Aviation Holdings. This was somewhat of a homecoming for the airline as two of the key people in Sector Aviation Holdings had been founders of the ancestral Business Air company.
By 2014, BMI Regional had enjoyed nearly a decade of holding the reputation as the UK’s most punctual scheduled airline.
In July of 2018, BMI Regional rebranded itself as Flybmi.
On the evening of February 16, 2019, the airline announced it was ceasing all operations and entering bankruptcy administration. Business uncertainties arising from the Brexit process were cited as partial reasons for the action.
For myself, I had never used BMI Regional services. However, as an occaisional spotter at my local airport, I will miss their distinctive blue and white Embraer ERJ-145 jets they used to fly the route between Munich, Germany and my local airport in Brno, Czech Republic.
One of the most recognisable and successful aircraft types of the pioneering era of aviation, which lasted from 1900 to 1913, was the Blériot XI. Arguably, it could also be considered one of the most influential aircraft in history.
First flown in January of 1909, the Blériot XI is most famously connected to the historic crossing of the English Channel in July of that same year by the man the aircraft bore the name of, Louis Blériot.
Louis Charles Joseph Blériot (1872-1936) was an engineer by training and achieved early success by inventing the first practical automobile headlamp and building a business around it. Though he had been interested in aviation since being a student at the prestigious and demanding École Centrale in Paris, he did not experiment in the field until after his headlamp business had generated enough profit to afford him the time and money to do so.
Blériot’s first serious steps into aviation came with a short lived and unsuccessful partnership with fellow French aviation pioneer, Gabriel Voisin (1880-1973). After the partnership was disolved, Blériot created his own company in 1906. Blériot Aéronautique, as the new company would become known, was a private company that spent the bulk of its pre World War I existence as a research facility as much as an aircraft manufacturer.
In the context of aviation history, the work done by Blériot Aéronautique established the basic methods of controlling an airplane in flight that are still in use today. A rudder to control the aircraft’s nose movements to the left and right and elevators to control the aircraft’s vertical movements first appeared on aircraft bearing the Blériot name. Wing warping, a method of twisting the aircraft’s wings to influence left and right rolling action, was also seen for the first time on European aircraft through machines bearing the Blériot name. While wing warping would soon give way to separate ailerons to control the aircraft’s roll action, the two methods worked on the same principle.
Blériot’s flight over the English Channel in 1909 cemented not only his name, but the Blériot XI into the international conciousness of the day and history books. The flight would also ensure that his aircraft business would see continued success for some time to come.
In 1913, Blériot headed up a consortium to buy the assets of the bankrupt Deperdussin aircraft company, Société de Production des Aéroplanes Deperdussin, better known as SPAD. Upon taking possession of SPAD’s assets and absorbing them into his own company, he renamed it Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, which allowed him to continue use of the SPAD name. SPAD would become a legendary name associated with First World War fighter aircraft from France.
In the post WWI period, the company designed and built aircraft under both the Blériot and SPAD names. Blériot ceased using the SPAD name in 1921 and reverted to the Blériot Aéronautique name. The final aircraft to be built which bore the Blériot name flew in 1933 and was a large flying boat designed to carry mail from Dakar, Senegal to Natal in Brazil.
In October of 1936, Blériot and five other aircraft companies were nationalised and merged to become Société nationale des constructions aéronautiques du sud-ouest. The new company was best known by its abreviation, SNCASO, and was used to create Sud Aviation in 1957. In 1970, through more company mergers, Sud Aviation became part of Aérospatiale. Eventually Aérospatiale would become part of today’s Airbus company.
As such, it would be no form of exageration to see Blériot Aéronautique as one of Airbus’ earliest ancestors.
Over the Channel and into History
The frail appearance that the frabric on wood frame construction gave to the Blériot XI belied an aircraft of robust structural strength for the day and remarkable flexibility for modifications. In these qualities, the aircraft would find great popularity well beyond the borders of the nation that created it.
The strength of the aircraft’s construction was demonstrated at the end of the historic event it is most often connected with, Louis Blériot’s 1909 English Channel crossing. The aircraft flew through quite turbulent winds and the flight ended with a heavy landing that damaged the landing gear and destroyed one of the propeller blades. In spite of the damage and the fact that the aircraft never flew again, Blériot was able to walk away from the landing without injury.
Almost as soon as the history making flight concluded and word of it shot around the world, Blériot was inundated by purchase orders for copies of the aircraft. He also set up flying schools in both France and Great Britain within a year of the flight.
Through his historic flight and the aircraft he did it with, Blériot had ushered in a new and more accepting mentality among the public towards flight. He became an overnight sensation and the Blériot XI became the object of desire for anyone with the means to purchase one and the training to go with it.
The Blériot XI was in serial production from late 1909 to slightly after the outbreak of the First World War and total production numbers came to around 800 aircraft across more than 20 versions. As such, the Blériot XI became the most common and popular aircraft of its day.
As with all great accomplishments more than one person is usually to credit.
Blériot was assisted in the creation and success of the Blériot XI by fellow French aviation pioneer, Raymond Saulnier (1881-1964). Saulnier was an aeronautical engineer by training and, like Blériot, an alumnus of École Centrale. The bulk of the credit for the aircraft’s design can be given to Saulnier as it was he who developed the Blériot XI from the earlier Blériot VIII model.
Another Frenchman involved was propeller designer, Lucien Chauviere (1876-1966). He designed some of the first modern propellers in Europe and it was one of his designs that was used to drive Blériot’s plane for the channel crossing.
The French based Italian engine designer, Alessandro Anzani (1877-1956), was another key player in the success of the Blériot XI. The aircraft had started life with a rather unreliable engine of French origins and, on his mechanic’s advice, Blériot made contact with Anzani to secure a better power source. At the time, Anzani was developing a number of three cylinder engine designs that included the 25 horsepower W-3 engine that was fitted to the aircraft for the historic flight.
When the Blériot XI initially went into serial production, it was offered with a choice of two types of Anzani three cylinder engine. Over the course of production, the airframe was adapted to a number of other engine types with varying degrees of success.
Flying for Firsts
As one might expect, owing to its popularity in the early era of aviation, the Blériot XI was involved with many more historical firsts than the 1909 English Channel Crossing.
While it was categorised as a sports and training aircraft first and foremost, the Blériot XI had the distinction of being the first aircraft taken into military service. More than 20 nations ultimately took the type into their military air arms.
The French and Italian military flying services took on fleets of the type starting in 1910 while the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) of Great Britain took the aircraft into service in 1912. The aircraft type would serve extensively in reconnaissance, training and light bombing roles during the early stages of the First World War.
Even before the outbreak of the First World War, the Blériot XI became the first aircraft to be used in military missions when, in 1911, it was used by the Italian military in northern Africa to fly reconnaissance missions against Turkish forces in the Italo-Turkish War.
The Blériot XI was also one of the world’s first successful monoplane aircraft designs. At a time when most aviation pioneers were experimenting with biplane and other multiwing designs, Louis Blériot was an early champion of monoplanes.
Many early aviation records for speed, distance and altitude were set with the Blériot XI in the pioneering era of flight. However, as one might expect in a period of rapid aeronautical development, most of those records did not stand for very long.
In the scope of more lasting historic contributions, Blériot’s own crossing of the English Channel was just one of a number of aeronautical firsts in which the Blériot XI was the aircraft of choice.
In 1912, the aircraft was the first to fly across the Irish Sea and first across the North Sea in 1914. In 1912, in the hands of American aviatrix Harriet Quimby, it was the first aircraft piloted solo by a woman to cross the English Channel.
The aircraft became the first to fly over the Alps and Pyrenees mountain ranges.
The earliest regularly scheduled air mail routes in America, Australia and Great Britain were all first flown in the Blériot XI.
In 1913, the aircraft was central to what is generally considered to be the world’s first airshow. Adolphe Pégoud, who would go on to become the world’s first fighter ace pilot in the First World War, was the first pilot to demonstrate the aerobatic potential of the Blériot XI. Pégoud was a key organiser of the airshow and is considered by many to be the first pilot to complete a loop in an aircraft. However, this claim is contested by some who say that a Russian pilot flew the world’s first loop in a Nieuport made monoplane about two weeks before Pégoud flew his loop.
What Remains and Learning More
Flying examples of the Blériot XI, in either original or replica form, are rather a rarity. However, they are out there.
Airworthy examples of original aircraft, or airframes that contain significant original materials and structures, are known to exist in America, Great Britain and Sweden.
Significant among these airworthy originals is the one that belongs to the Shuttleworth Collection in Great Britain. Built in 1909 and powered by an original Anzani three cylinder engine, this aircraft is at once the oldest known airworthy aircraft in the world and the oldest airframe and engine combination still flying in the world.
Stationary museum exhibits of the aircraft are rather easier to find as several are known to be on display, in either original or replica form, in museums across Europe as well as America, Argentina, Australia and Canada.
The Panavia Tornado needs little introduction, for nearly half a century, This aircraft has filled a critical niche in NATO’s strike and reconnaissance abilities in Europe through the Cold War and beyond.
Beyond the aircraft’s military duties, the Tornado represents much more from standpoints of aeronautical, industrial and political success.
The Tornado was the first aircraft of its class and complexity to be created by a multinational consortium. Early challenges involved agreeing on the form the new aircraft would take while still being able to satisfy the differing requirements of the participating nations as well as a division of labour in building the aircraft that accurately reflected the level of participation each of the consortium’s member nations had in the overall program.
The industrial and political implications of the Tornado were considerable. It was a showpiece of sorts that clearly exhibited that America did not have a monopoly on creating modern strike aircraft among western nations and that European aircraft manufacturers were capable of producing aircraft of the class that were quite competitive with contemporary American designs. While the Tornado did ultimately contain some American made avionics, this content was very limited and tightly controlled. Every effort was made to ensure the Tornado was European first and foremost.
Aeronautically, the aircraft exhibited a high degree of modular construction in all aspects as well as an unprecedented degree of automation and computerisation in many aspects of flight and operations. The aircraft’s modular nature would pay dividends in time saved during ground servicing and upgrading while the level of automation the aircraft’s computers could provide reduced aircrew workload and fatigue significantly relative to earlier aircraft types of its class.
Ultimately, in spite of all early obstacles, the Tornado was brought into existence and has won respect on a global scale.
In this entry, I will focus on the IDS (Interdictor/Strike) versions of the Tornado as I have already written a separate piece on the ADV (Air Defense Variant) of the aircraft.
Bringing Things Together
The story of the Tornado starts in August of 1967, when a working group of five nations came together with the intent of creating a multi-role aircraft to replace the American designed Lockheed F-104 Starfighter that all were using at the time. The five nations involved were: Belgium, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands and West Germany. The project was initially known as MRA75 (Multi-Role Aircraft for 1975).
Great Britain joined the group in 1968. The main motivation for the British to involve themselves in MRA75 was to find partner nations to further the UKVG (United Kingdom Variable Geometry) strike fighter design that had grown out of the failed AFVG (Anglo-French Variable Geometry) fighter design that had been in development between 1965 and 1967. The UKVG design was taken as a basis from which to develop the MRA75 design and where the Tornado inherited its variable geometry wings from.
An additional impetus for Great Britain to join the group was that the infamous defense white paper of 1957 had thrown all aspects of the British defense industry, particularly the aviation industry, into a state of great upheaval. The effects of the white paper included government forced mergers of aviation companies and the cancellation of a number of critical defense programs. Most notable among these cancellations, in the aviation context, was that of the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) TSR.2 in 1965. The TSR.2 had been a highly ambitious project of great complexity and, consequently, very expensive from an early stage. The rising cost of the TSR.2 program is the most frequently cited reason for the cancellation of it. However, shortly after the TSR.2 cancellation the idea was proposed to replace it with a British specific version of the General Dynamics F-111 from America that was to be known as the F-111K. The F-111K would also have been very expensive and was ultimately cancelled before a single aircraft was built.
What was clear, with the financial losses incured by the cancellations of the TSR.2 and F-111K programs, was that Great Britain could no longer bear the financial load of a new strike fighter alone. If the Royal Air Force was to have their new aircraft, British industry would need to find outside partners to help.
In March of 1969, the multinational consortium was formally named Panavia Aircraft GmbH and its headquarters were placed a short distance north-west of Munich. In the same period of time, the program was renamed from MRA75 to MRCA (Multi-Role Combat Aircraft) and its general configuration had been agreed upon with single and two seat variations of the design under consideration.
The constituent companies of Panavia were MBB (later Airbus) from Germany, BAC (later BAE Systems) from Great Britain, and Aeritalia (later Alenia Aeronautica) from Italy. The workshare saw MBB and BAC taking 42.5% each with the remaining 15% going to Aeritalia. BAC would be responsible for the forward fuselage and tail sections while MBB would build the centre fuselage section and Aeritalia would build the wings.
In mid 1969, a similar multinational consortium was assembled to design and build the MRCA’s engine, the RB.199. This group was named Turbo Union. As with the MRCA itself, the RB.199 engine represented a multinational defense project that was of unprecedented scale and complexity in the European industrial context.
Turbo Union was made up of MTU Aero Engines from Germany, Rolls-Royce from Great Britain and Fiat Aviazione (later Avio S.p.A.) from Italy. MTU and Rolls-Royce each took 40% of the workshare, leaving 20% for Fiat. Turbo Union headquarters were initially placed at Rolls-Royce facilities at Filton in south-west England and later relocated to the company’s main facilities near Derby in central England.
Belgium, Canada and the Netherlands had all withdrawn from the program before much was formalised with regards to workshare. Italy, Great Britain and West Germany would be the partner nations of Panavia from 1969 onward.
Into the Air
While the face of the MRCA and its makers had been largely cemented by 1970, there was still work to be done before the first prototype would take to the air four years later.
The RB.199 was run for the first time on a stationary test bed in September of 1971 and a month later a radar system from Texas Instruments was selected for the aircraft.
Construction of the first MRCA prototype commenced in November of 1972 while the RB.199 was run for the first time in the air, using an Avro Vulcan bomber as a test bed, in April of 1973.
The first complete MRCA prototype was rolled out of its hangar in Manching, West Germany in April of 1974 and flew for the first time in August of the same year.
1974 also saw the MRCA officially given the name “Tornado”. While there had been some debate over what name the aircraft would be given, Tornado was ultimately chosen as the word meant the same thing in all three languages of the Panavia partner nations. From a British point of view, it was also in keeping with the Royal Air Force tradition of naming fighter aircraft after extreme meteorological phenomena.
Extensive flight testing filled out the rest of the 1970s for Panavia and The Tornado. While the flight testing phase was not without incident, the third and fifth prototypes were lost in landing accidents while the eighth prototype and its crew were lost when the aircraft crashed into the Irish Sea in 1979, it was an overall success.
The first Tornado flying unit was the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE), which was formed between 1980 and 1981 at the Royal Air Force station at Cottesmore in the East Midlands region of England. As the name of the unit suggests, crew training on the Tornado was as balanced multinationally as any other aspect of the machine.
Until its disbandment in 1999, the TTTE was responsible for initial aspects of Tornado training. Ever increasing differences between the operational specifications and systems fits of the various user nations’ Tornado fleets was the major contributor to the unit’s disbandment as it made more sense for the user nations to create their own training units geared to their individual Tornado fleets.
In 1981, advanced schools for weapons training on the aircraft were established in the UK an West Germany.
1982 saw the first three RAF Tornado squadrons form, all of which had been former Avro Vulcan bomber units. That same year saw the first West German navy Tornado squadron established, itself a former Lockheed F-104 Starfighter user.
The first Luftwaffe and Italian air force Tornado units were established in 1984
The first Tornado units of the Royal Saudi Air Force were activated in 1986
Between 1995 and 2005, the German navy eventually was relieved of its fast jet force and associated roles with its Tornado fleet being absorbed into Luftwaffe stocks.
The Tornado in Action
In its years of service, the Tornado has been an invaluable asset to NATO through the latter stages of the Cold War and beyond.
Through the mid to late 1980s and most of the 1990s, the Royal Air Force maintained a total of eight Tornado squadrons at a high level of combat readiness at bases in Germany.
As with most combat aircraft of its generation, the Tornado got its first taste of true combat during the Persian Gulf War that lasted from 1990 to 1991. Tornado units from Italy, the UK and Saudi Arabia took part in the conflict.
In the wake of the 1990-1991 Gulf War, Royal Air Force Tornado units stayed in the region as part of Operation Provide Comfort which ran from 1991 to 1996 with the intent to protect Kurdish populations in northern Iraq and ensure humanitarian aid to them.
RAF Tornado units also participated in Operation Southern Watch which ran from 1992 to 2003 to enforce the Iraqi no-fly zone established after the war that extended from the 32nd parallel southward.
In December of 1998, RAF Tornados were used in the highly controversial Operation Desert Fox. The operation was a four day bombing campaign against targets in Iraq.
Luftwaffe Tornados provided valuable reconnaissance during the Bosnian War which lasted from 1992 to 1995. This was particularly significant as it marked the first time German forces had engaged in combat action since the Second World War.
Tornados from Germany, Italy and the UK all particpated in the Kosovo War which lasted from 1998 to 1999. The aircraft carried out bombing and reconnaissance as well as the suppression of ground based anti-aircraft sites.
RAF Tornados were used extensively during Operation Telic, The British contribution to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of the country until 2011.
British, German and Italian Tornados all, at one time or another, took part in the 2001 to 2014 NATO led security mission in Afghanistan to combat Islamic State (IS) militant cells.
British and Italian Tornados took part in the 2011 military intervention in Lybia which resulted in the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime.
Since 2015, Saudi Arabian Tornados have been used in the ongoing Saudi led multinational intervention against Islamic Houthi insurgence in Yemen.
The Tornado Strike Family
The IDS (Interdictor/Strike) version of the Tornado encompasses seven variants.
The baseline IDS version of the Tornado is used by both Germany and Italy for strike and reconnaissance duties.
Tornado Gr.1 and Gr.1A:
The Gr.1 was the initial British version of the IDS. Equiped with British specific avionics and systems, it could be differentiated from other IDS variants by the presence of a laser targeting pod to the right of the nose landing gear as well as differences in antenna fit and the type of pods carried on the outboard wing pylons for the aircraft’s self defense.
The Gr.1A was the RAF’s reconnaissance optimised version of the Tornado. It could be distinguished from the Gr.1 by windows for the infrared based reconnaissance gear on either side of the forward fuselage and the absence of the two 27mm nose cannons that were standard armament for early IDS versions. The cannons had to be removed to make room for the reconnaissance gear.
When Saudi Arabia decided to purchase the Tornado, it was Gr.1 and Gr.1A versions they opted for.
This was a rare and short lived Tornado variant. The Gr.1B was a maritime strike optimised version intended to replace the RAF’s aging fleet of Blackburn Buccaneer aircraft. A total of 26 Gr.1 aircraft were converted to the GR.1B standard.
Two main problems resulted in the Gr.1B having a relatively short service life: early troubles in getting the aircraft to work well with the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile it was equiped with and an unrefueled range that was inadequate to effectively cover the UK’s large maritime patrol and strike zone.
Tornado Gr.4 and Gr.4A
These variants of the Tornado were the result of a mid-life upgrade program for the Gr.1 and Gr.1A that saw a total of nearly 150 RAF Tornados upgraded to Gr.4 or Gr.4A standard between 1996 and 2003.
The most visible difference between the Gr.1/Gr.1A and Gr.4/Gr.4A is the addition of an infrared targeting pod on the left side of the nose landing gear. In the case of the Gr.1, the left side nose cannon was removed to make room for the pod’s systems.
The difference between the Gr.1A and Gr.4A was more one of a change in the aircraft’s mission profile. The Gr.1A and its built in infrared reconnaissance system were optimised for low altitude operations. The conversion to Gr.4A saw the aircraft’s mission profile changed to one of medium altitude and the built in reconnaissance system replaced by external pod based systems.
This version of the Tornado debuted in 1990 and is used by Germany and Italy for electronic combat and reconnaissance.
The ECR specialises in the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) mission, a highly risky mission which requires specially equiped aircraft to fly into an area ahead of the main strike group to detect and destroy tracking radars of hostile ground based anti-aircraft gun and missile systems.
In order to accommodate the required gear to carry out the SEAD mission, both nose cannons had to be removed in creating the ECR.
There are a few differences between the German and Italian ECR Tornados. The German aircraft have built in reconnaissance systems as well as external pod based ones while the Italian ECRs rely only on pod based systems.
The German ECR fleet was built factory fresh while the Italian ECRs were converted from existing IDS stocks. Additionally, the German ECRs have slightly more powerful engines than the Italian ones.
The Tornado Today
After more than four decades of solid service, the curtain is slowly falling on the Tornado.
The last of the Royal Air Force’s Tornado fleet was retired in March of 2019 while Saudi Tornado force retirement is set for sometime in the 2020s.
Germany and Italy have both forecast the complete retirement of their Tornado fleets for the 2025 to 2030 timeframe.
If you’re in the right place at the right time, there is still a chance to see a Tornado in “living” form.
Happily, a good number of Tornados have found their way into museums across Europe and Saudi Arabia. At least two Tornados are on display at museums in America.
September 15 saw me at Ostrava, Czech Republic for the 2018 edition of the annual NATO Days show.
The weather on the day was very changeable. It started out overcast and a bit foggy, but then cleared up towards mid morning and was sunny. Dark clouds rolled in for a bit in the afternoon and a tiny bit of rain fell before it cleared off and was sunny again towards the end of the show. Needless to say, photography was a challenge.
Weather aside, the show was the usual well organised affair with lots to see.
Here’s a small taster of what was on hand this year: