(Image: Cpl Dave Blackburn RAF; Tornado GR4 fuselage loaded onto C-17)
This photograph, taken by Royal Air Force Cpl Dave Blackburn, shows the empty fuselage of a Panavia Tornado GR4 strike jet being loaded into the cargo hold of a massive C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft. The image was captured at Kandahar Airport, Afghanistan, on February 19, 2010. The aircraft’s serial number is unidentified and the reason for it being stripped down for return to the UK via C-17 is uncertain. But clearly, it was unable to make the return journey under its own power.
Unlike the wreck of Tornado ZA466, whose fuselage was air-freighted back from the 1991 Gulf War in pieces, this Tornado was wheeled into the cargo hold on its undercarriage, though other major components have been removed. Wings, vertical stabiliser and tail planes have been stripped in order for the aircraft to fit onto the transport. The twin engine bays are also empty (presumably to save weight, while the engines could act as spares for other Tornados in theatre).
(Image: Sgt Jack Pritchard; an RAF C-17 Globemaster)
RAF Tornado GR4s, equipped with Brimstone missiles and Paveway IV laser-guided bombs, arrived at Kandahar International Airport in 2009 and 2010 to replace the Harriers that had been deployed there since 2004. The jets flew more than 5,000 sorties and notched up 33,500 combat hours against Taliban forces. British operations in Afghanistan, codenamed Operation Herrick, finally came to an end in December 2014.
It seems likely that this Tornado GR4 sustained damage during one of those combat operations (or in a training sortie) to an extent that it could not be repaired on site. We’re unsure whether the aircraft was returned to flight status in the UK or was considered to be damaged beyond repair and dispatched to RAF Leeming for RTP. Another (more unlikely) explanation is that the fuselage came from an already withdrawn Tornado jet in use as a battle damage repair (BDR) trainer for military engineers in theatre. Such training aids do, after all, take up precious hangar space on US Navy aircraft carriers.
If you know the serial number of this particular Tornado GR4, or the story behind the above photograph, please drop us a comment below.
Update: It’s now understood that this airframe may be Tornado ZA596 (tail code 064), which was damaged beyond repair at Kandahar Airport on July 20, 2009. The aircraft abandoned its takeoff run after a fuel leak reportedly sparked a fire. Both crew members ejected safely.