RAF Marham – Enthusiasts Day : Friday 8th March 2019
It was a great surprise to receive an invite to a second Enthusiasts Day at RAF Marham as I had not been able to get to the base for the first one, even though I had been invited. I had also missed all the previous events regarding the final days of the Tornado, so this second chance was a must, even if I had to crawl there.
The day in question was to start at 1pm but there were formalities that had to be taken care of in the car park just outside the main entrance. Passes issued, a raffle ticket for a free squadron print was given to each of us before we boarded the transport to take us on base.
The entrance was guarded by Tornado ZA407 which had been pained in a special livery and Victor K.2, XH673, which had the history of RAF Marham painted in black on its tail. Both can be seen from outside the main gate.
We drove around to the eastern HAS complex where the four specially marked Tornado’s were out waiting for us with no barriers, cones etc. All strategically parked to allow photographs to be taken.
As well as looking at the four aircraft, there were aircrew and ground crew around for the visitors to talk to and question and glean the last bit of information or personal stories about their experiences with the R.A.F. Tornado.
As well as the four Tornado’s on view, both IX(B) and 31 Squadrons were selling memorabilia inside a HAS and the RAF Marham Heritage Centre (https://www.facebook.com/MarhamHeritageCentre) were also present selling a number of items relating to the history of the base.
At the back of this particular HAS was ZA542, whilst out the front was the “Camo” Tornado, ZG752 which looked superb in the light that was present upon our arrival.
Across from this HAS, two more Tornado’s sat patiently for us. ZG775 in IX(B) Squadron retirement livery and ZD716 in 31 Squadron retirement livery. Both Tornado’s looked stunning with their respective fins both with a black background, a grey Tornado silhouette and then a gold start (ZD716) or a green bat (ZG775) on top. Both had the dates of the Squadron along the top of the fuselage.
Across the way was the fourth Tornado, ZG771 also sitting outside a HAS. This was also in special livery, but this time depicting RAF Marham 100th Anniversary. Inside the HAS was an unknown Tornado in the well-known grey scheme.
At 13:45, the aircrew for the flight of ZG752 arrived. It was to be the “Camo” jet’s final flight. Ground checks were made by the pilot and ground crew before the two Rolls Royce Turbo Union RB199 engines were started and at 14:18 the Tornado began to taxi, pulling away from outside the HAS and passing directly in from of the crowd line, so close that from where I was situated, I could have touched the end of the wing.
It rolled out of the HAS Complex and taxied to the end of Runway 19, callsign “MARHAM 74”.
We were then taken to the point where the two runways cross to watch the departure, it’s final flight and landing. At 14:30 its two afterburners were ignited and a couple of minutes later, ZG752 rolled down Runway 19, passing us and into the air for one final time.
The “Camo” Jet gave us a few passes before heading off into the now grey skies for a final flight near to RAF Coningsby for approximately fifteen minutes before returning to Marham.
Just after 15:00 the Tornado reappeared in the sky above us and performed two flypasts, one with its wings swept forward, the second with its wings swept back. It then completed an ILS approach and switched on a single afterburner to climb away. Then a touch and go followed by a wings swept back approach (which I had never seen before) before it finally came into land, arriving on the tarmac at 15:18. ZG752’s flying days were over. It is destined to become the Gate Guard at RAF Honington, apparently.
For the last forty minutes of the visit, we returned to the eastern HAS complex to get any final photos, purchase anything and obtain a free print and I was given a chance to have a very close look at ZA542.
A raffle to win a silver small metal Tornado, worth around £600 had been held with tickets on sale during the day. It was made from the metal from a 27mm Mauser Cannon and was sitting on top of a part of a fan blade, mounted on wood. The draw was made but unfortunately, it was not my numbers called out.
With the day over, we all got back in the coaches and taken off base, whilst the Tornado’s were placed back in hard shelters for the last time.
A superb, but sad day. A definite “Dear Diary” day and privileged to be witness to the final flight of ZG752
I would like to thank all those at RAF Marham that made the day possible for us, especially Group Captain Ian Townsend ADC MA for allowing, not just one, but two Enthusiasts Days to be held to celebrate the Tornado and also the staff form the bases media office for all their hard work in getting the two days arranged. Lastly, to all the men and women (Ground and aircrew) who were at the eastern HAS complex throughout the day, who made us feel so welcome.
Brief History Of The Tornado
The Panavia Tornado was built by a tri-national consortium in the early 70’s. British Aerospace (UK), Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohn (West Germany) and Aeritalia (Italy) all took part in building and developing the aircraft.
The first Tornado, XX946 flew 14th August 1974 and entered service in 1979. The only export of this aircraft was to The Royal Saudi Air Force. Production of the GR variant stopped in 1998.
At RAF Cottesmore, the T.T.T.E. Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment) was formed which allowed aircrew training on the jet for the three countries pilots, until February 1999 when the unit was disbanded.
Tornado ADV was developed as a long-range interceptor, first flying in October 1979 and delivered to the RAF in November 1984. It served within the RAF until June 2012
Within the R.A.F. Tornado’s were stationed at many bases during it’s lifetime such as RAF Honington, RAF Marham, RAF Lossiemouth, RAF Coningsby, RAF Laarbruch (West Germany) and RAF Bruggen (West Germany).
It has seen active service in Gulf War I (1991), Kosovo (1999), Gulf War II (2003), Afghanistan (2009), Libya (2011) Iraq (2014) and Syria.
The Tornado’s life with the Royal Air Force is due to come to an end on Thursday 14th March 2019 during the disbandment parade of No. IX(B) Squadron and 31 Squadron when a single Tornado is expected to fly.
Report compiled by Doug MacDonald