Reduced to Produce: The End of the RAF’s Tornado F3 Interceptor Force

panavia-tornado-f3-scrap-rtp (Image: Steven Gray, reproduced with permission)

It’s hard to imagine these gaunt, gutted shells were once part of the UK’s most advanced interceptor aircraft of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Prior to the introduction of the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Tornado F3 protected UK airspace from Russian bomber patrols and maintained four aircraft on constant readiness in the Falklands as part of 1435 Flight.

tornado-f3-scrapped-rtp (Image: Steven Gray, reproduced with permission)

So to see modern jets (albeit Cold War-era designs) stripped for parts and dumped for the scrapman really does evoke the end of an era. These Tornado F3s were among a batch of ex-British aircraft leased to the Italian air force during the 1990s after being withdrawn from RAF service due to squadron cuts. They are pictured here in 2007, after being returned to the UK.

The Panavia Tornado F3, the air defence variant (ADV) of the original Tornado IDS, was introduced during the 1980s and flew its last RAF sortie in March 2011. While a small number have been preserved, the commonality of parts with the RAF’s Tornado GR4 fleet, which remains in service, makes the F3 an ideal donor for spare components.

panavia-tornado-f3 (Image: Mike Freer, GNU Free Documentation License)

As a result, the remaining F3 airframes have been, or are in the process of being, ‘reduced to produce‘ (RTP) at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire, where all usable spares are removed before the gaunt fuselages are melted down and recycled. Unlike the Tornado F3’s predecessor, the Lightning, a spares recovered airframe looks more like a gutted canoe than the fighter aircraft it once was.

panavia-tornado-f3-falklands (Image: Harland Quarrington, reproduced under an Open Government License)

Although the ADV variant of the Tornado was never considered by many the true successor to the Lightning, aviation groups have criticised the policy of scrapping retired airframes en masse, with only a handful in or slated for museums. But with £55 million of spares expected to have been recovered from phase one of the RTP programme alone, it’s understandable that the government would want to stockpile as many components as possible to keep the GR4 fleet serviceable until 2019.

panavia-tornado-f3-stored-shawbury (Image: Jerry Gunner, cc-3.0)

Lets just hope that some F3 fuselages – or ‘gutted canoes’ – can hang in there for a few more years. Then perhaps when the Tornado GR4 is retired, they can be reunited with their original wings, tailplanes and fins and find homes among some of the UK’s many smaller aviation collections.

Keep reading – Explore the former F-4 Phantom graveyard at RAF Wattisham.


About the author: Tom





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