Book Review: “Tornado Over the Tigris”

Tornado Over the Tigris
By: Michael Napier
Pen and Sword Books (2015)

The Panavia Tornado needs little introduction, the product of a trinational consortium put together to create a multirole flying machine that would play a vital role in forming the backbone of NATO’s strike and reconnaissance needs in Europe through the 1980s and 1990s, the Tornado has carved out a respectable place for itself in aviation history.

“Tornado Over the Tigris” was written by Michael Napier as a retrospective to his 13 year fast jet flying career in the Royal Air Force. The bulk of his carreer was spent piloting the Tornado Gr.1 variant from RAF Bruggen in the former West Germany. This tale follows his RAF Career from his basic flight training in the late 1970s to his last Tornado flight and retirement from the RAF shortly after the end of the Cold War.

This book is a very accessible read which makes just enough reference to the technical aspects of flying and maintaining the Tornado to effectively bring across the complexities of the machine without getting bogged down in dry technobabble. It’s a volume that is as much about the people that worked around the machine as it is about the machine itself. It’s a quite human story told with a level of humility and wit that makes it engaging and gives it great charm.

Throughout the course of the book, Mr. Napier emphasises the critical importance trust and personal familiarity play in creating an effective military unit, how important good people skills are when working in a multinational team and how filled with risk the military fast jet crew’s lives are even in the most routine aspects of their duties once the aircraft is aloft. At the start of the book, he takes time to list the names of Tornado pilots and navigators he personally knew who did not survive their time in service, either through combat or accidents, and dedicates the book to them.

The book starts as the typical story of a young man who is captivated by military fast jets in his childhood and sets himself the goal of one day flying them himself. Through diligence at school and determination, he achieves that goal. In this section, he gives the reader a good picture of what life in flight training school was like and what the various aicraft he learned to fly on were like.

The core of the book starts when the Author graduates from training on the Tornado and is assigned to his first operational unit, 14 “Crusader” Squadron, at the RAF station at Bruggen near the Dutch/German border. Most of the story happens at Bruggen and in the skies of the former West Germany.

I would say the book really shines in this part as it gives the reader a view of a period of RAF activities that is now firmly in the past. Following the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany, RAF bases and assets in the country were gradually reduced through the 1990s. The last of the RAF’s permanent presence in Germany ended in the early 2000s. This part gives the reader a window into the realities that a NATO fast jet pilot stationed in West Germany, the de facto front line of the Cold War in Europe, lived with daily. The primary reality was that any alarm calling them to action there could very well be the real thing rather than a drill.

We get a break from Tornado action when the author is assigned to RAF Chivenor, a former RAF station in the south west of England, where he trained to become a qualified instructor pilot. In this section, we get a good look at the Hawk advanced jet trainer as well as the much more relaxed atmosphere to be found on a training base in the UK at the time versus RAF Bruggen.

From Chivenor, we are returned to Bruggen for the author’s second tour on the Tornado. This time he is assigned to 31 “Goldstars” squadron and gives us a good look at how different the internal atmospheres of different squadrons can be as well as the trials and tribulations of reaquainting himself with friends from his first Tornado tour, getting accepted by existing members of his new squadron as well as carrying an elevated level of experience and authority than he had on his first tour.

Along the way, Napier takes the reader along on various exercises such as weapons camps in Canada and Italy as well as multiple trips to the famous Red Flag exercise in America. These parts of the book show well the many challenges of working with other militaries towards a common goal.

Also detailed is a period the author spent based in the Middle East in the early 1990s as part of a detachment to control airspace in Iraq. In this section of the book the author brings across well the gravity he was hit with when, for the first time in his career, he saw live bombs mounted on his aircraft and knew he would be taking them into a real combat zone to drop “in anger”.

The author also uses his time in the Middle East to underline how important it is to have absolute trust and knowledge of the people you are working with in a military unit. As the Tornado is flown by a crew of two, the trust between the pilot and navigator is paramount. The difficulties the established roster of the detachment had in adjusting to the arrival of two new crews was very enlightening. While the new crews were certainly qualified on the Tornado, they were total strangers as people to the existing personnel and their integration into the unit was not without interpersonal friction.

The book concludes with a very descriptive detailing of the author’s final flight in a Tornado in which he flies the length of Great Britain at low altitude. It’s a quite satisfying end to the book.

This book is written with a minimum of ego and it’s clear how acutely aware the author is of how privileged he was to be able to achieve a dream that many have yet a rare few realise.

I can recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of the Tornado and would like a solid look at operations with it that goes light on the technical end of things, or for anyone who just likes a good military flying memoir.

This link will take you to the book’s page on the publisher’s website:


Book Review: “Out of the Blue: The Final Landing”

Edited by: Ian Cowie, Dim Jones and Chris Long

Halldale Media Group (2017)

This is the third and final installment of the “Out of the Blue” series of books. The books consist of collected stories of Royal Air Force personnel past and present. Many eras are covered, from World War II up to the present.

As with the first two books in the series, this final volume gives the reader a solid cross section of aircraft types and bases used by the RAF from the Second World War to the present as well as a varied selection of mission taskings that were flown by the various types of aircraft. Most stories also include a photo or two of the aircraft type featured in the tale for those readers who may not be familiar with it.

This installment of the series has aspects of both the first two volumes and that works both for and against it at times.

Most of the stories here, as in the first volume, happen in the cockpit or very close to the aircraft and give good insights into what they were like to work around and operate. Digressions into off duty antics are few and far between.

Like the first volume, there’s lots of hair raising tales in this installment that get straight to the point and put the reader in the thick of things.

As with the second volume, some of the stories in the third book could have done with a bit tighter editing as they go on a bit.

One example of this is spread across three chapters and covers the sinking of the German battleship, Tirpitz. While a very interesting and engaging tale, the editorial notes make it quite clear that the story was taken from another book with that author’s permission.

While taking an exerpt from another book to gain material is not generally a problem for me, I feel that taking enough material to constitute three chapters is pushing things a bit in a book such as this and taking space away from possibly one or two more independent stories.

An additional problem, especially with the WWII stories, is that there is a lot of service and period specific slang that goes unexplained. All of the stories have some footnotes to explain some of the acronyms and jargon; a similar treatment to the slang in the WWII stories would have been helpful in several places.

The above mentioned criticisms certainly don’t take away from my recommending this book for both good stories and the completeness of the three volume collection.

As with the previous two volumes, this one was also published to raise awareness and funds for the RAF Benevolent Fund and other British military veterans’ charities.

This link will take you to the book’s page on the RAF Benevolent Fund website:

Out of the Blue: The Final Landing

Book Review: “Tornado F3 in Focus”

Tornado F3 in Focus: A Navigator’s Eye on Britain’s Last Interceptor
By: David Gledhill
Fonthill Media (2015)

“All modern aircraft have four dimensions: span, length, height and politics. TSR2 simply got the first three right.” – Sir Sydney Camm

No truer words can be spoken about modern aircraft development than the above famous quote from the legendary aircraft designer, Sir Sydney Camm, when reflecting on the 1965 cancellation of the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) TSR.2 tactical strike and reconnaissance aircraft program.

Politics will always hold some sway in procuring new military technology of any sort. A shift in power resulting from an election can utterly hamstring a much needed and well progressing project while those who control the flow of money will often get their way at the expense of the needs and safety of those charged with operating the equipment in the field.

Thus began the story of the Panavia Tornado F3…

The Tornado Air Defence Variant (ADV) program which would eventually lead to the F3 was quite controversial and well under many microscopes before the first prototype flew in 1979. It courted even more criticism when the lacklustre interim Tornado F2 variant entered RAF service in the early-mid 1980s.

From the first prototype flight in 1979 to the final retirement of the F3 by the Royal Saudi Air Force in 2014, the members of the Tornado ADV family would become both maligned and appreciated by various parties.

It was an aircraft that, in spite of its many detractors and early setbacks, would mature into a credible and valuable air defence asset which provided the Royal Air Force with a quarter century of service before they retired it in 2011.

In this book, David Gledhill lays out the Tornado ADV story in the RAF context from start to finish and covers in great detail all of the various road blocks in the aircraft’s development that held it back as well as the various incremental improvements that pushed it forward during its life.

Mr. Gledhill is a uniquely qualified voice to speak on matters of the Tornado ADV variants. He was one of the very first Tornado F2 navigators trained for the aircraft and his subsequent RAF flying career was dedicated to Tornado F3 operations as both an instructor navigator and an operational one.

Prior to his time as a Tornado navigator, he did the same job in the F-4 Phantom. As such, his knowledge and expertise of the air defence arena is extensive and he is well placed to not only compare the various stages of Tornado ADV development, but also to compare the Tornado and the Phantom in the the air defence role in a first hand and meaningful way.

Where this book really shines, in my view, is in Mr. Gledhill’s inside knowledge of the politics and other bureaucracy inside the halls of the Ministry of Defence that so often held the Tornado F3 back but kept the media and most other outsiders quite ignorant of why the aircraft seemed lacking.

The author is able to give us such an insight as he did two non flying tours of duty at the Ministry of Defence and was directly involved with many of the upgrades made to the Tornado F3 during that time. He relates tales of various projects jockeying for funding, his own extensive experience with the aircraft being placed second by those of higher authority who knew far less about the aircraft and perhpas nothing about the needs of the crews operating it.

The sections on procurement are particularly eye-opening and give a look at the intricacies of the development and procurement process of complex military technology that some who are keen to discredit contemporary military projects, such as the Lockheed-Martin F-35, but are dubiously informed about them might do well to read before going on a tirade in cyberspace against them.

The author also describes squadron deployments to the Middle East, the Balkans and the Falkland Islands in good detail.

Along the way, Mr. Gledhill also dispells many of the lingering myths and misconceptions about the Tornado F3 that followed it through its service life.

While there are a few typographical errors peppered through the book, they are not major impediments to undertsanding the text of the book.

If there is a more authoritative and well rounded book on the Tornado F3, I’m not aware of it.

Here is the book’s profile on the publisher’s website:

Buy with confidence.