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:

http://fonthillmedia.com/epages/a72b332e-5c82-4e84-ad34-4c5316ee7a6b.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/a72b332e-5c82-4e84-ad34-4c5316ee7a6b/Products/978-1-78155-307-7

Buy with confidence.

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