(Image: MUSTANG_P51, reproduced with permission)
This stripped-out fuselage, lying on wood blocks outside a small hangar, may not look like much at first glance. But behind the blue tarpaulin is Panavia Tornado ZA452, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and the first Tornado GR4 to be saved for preservation (by the Midland Air Museum near Coventry, UK).
ZA452 was built as a Tornado GR1 and first flew on May 5, 1983 before entering service with the Royal Air Force. One of 26 airframes to be converted to GR1B standard during the early 1990s (replacing the aging Blackburn Buccaneer in the anti-shipping role), ZA452 was later updated to GR4 standard during the type’s mid-life upgrade programme.
Gulf War Veteran
During its 30-year service with the RAF, ZA452’s defining sorties came in 1991 during Operation Granby, the UK contribution to the first Gulf War. Named ‘Gulf Killer’ and sporting shark teeth nose art, the Tornado was one of several Bruggen-based jets to fly low-level bombing missions over Iraq from Tabuk airbase in Saudi Arabia. (Find out what happened to a less fortunate Tabuk-based Tornado, ZA466, here.)
After the conflict ZA452 and several other Gulf War veterans were seen on the airshow circuit during the summer of 1991. Accompanying them were John Peters and John Nichol, who earlier that year were forced to eject from their Tornado over the Iraqi desert after being hit by a surface to air missile (SAM). Their book, Tornado Down, makes for compelling reading.
Retirement and ‘RTP’
In the summer of 2013, ZA452 was flown to RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire to undergo the dreaded RTP (reduce to produce) process. But the aircraft’s history had put it on the radar of the Midland Air Museum, who mounted a concerted effort to secure the Tornado and the majority of its original external parts for preservation. While a handful of earlier GR1 and pre-production airframes have been saved, ZA452 is the only example of a Tornado GR4 in a museum.
The above photo by Mark Williamson shows ZA452 screaming through the Lake District at low level in June 2010. The original grey-green camouflaged drop tanks and lighter grey panels are reminders of already-retired jets cannibalised for parts to keep 452 airworthy until the summer of 2013, when it too was sent for RTP. The images below, meanwhile, by Neil Bury, capture the Marham-based Tornado in its natural low level environment – a familiar scene despite the aircraft being in the twilight years of its service life.
(Images: Neil Bury, reproduced with permission)