Tornado ZA466: Final Flight of a Gulf War Warrior

za466-tornado-wreck-tabuk (Image: Pinkfin1, reproduced with permission)

The photograph below, taken on September 16, 2002 at RAF St Athan in Wales, shows the mid section of a Panavia Tornado GR1 strike jet, its ‘desert pink’ camouflage identifying the aircraft as one that had participated in Operation Granby during the 1991 Gulf War. But the fact that it remained in desert colours suggested the Tornado may not have flown again after the conflict. This was confirmed through its serial number (ZA466), still visible on the side of the fuselage, which revealed it to be the same Tornado that had been involved in a landing accident at Tabuk airbase in Saudi Arabia while returning from a night training sortie.

za466-tornado-wreck-tabuk-7 (Image: Ian Grinter (website: South Wales Aviation Group), reproduced with permission)

On October 18, 1990, ZA466 was part of a formation which took off from Tabuk on a low-level training mission. But a technical fault with the aircraft’s electronic sensor suite caused the two-man crew to return to base. The accident report states that flying conditions were good when the pilot lined the Tornado up for landing, and the approach was made using a combination of navigational aids and visual cues.


za466-tornado-wreck-tabuk-3 (Images: Pinkfin1, reproduced with permission)

But immediately before the jet touched down, the navigator in the rear cockpit noticed that the airfield’s emergency barrier – designed to stop stricken aircraft from running off the end of the runway – was not fully retracted. A moment later, ZA466 experienced a rapid deceleration as its nose-wheel slammed into the asphalt, causing the nose-leg to collapse before the rear wheels hit the ground.


za466-tornado-wreck-tabuk-5 (Images: BROWSER, cc-nc-nd-3.0)

When the crew saw smoke and flames in the cockpit, the pilot initiated the ejection sequence. Both men thankfully survived the incident but reportedly sustained major injuries. The Tornado, its forward fuselage broken between the front and rear cockpits, was deemed to be beyond economical repair. The dismantled jet was loaded onto a C5 Galaxy and returned to the UK. Originally based at RAF Marham in Norfolk, ZA466 was stripped for all usable spare parts before spending 11 years in storage at St Athan in Wales.

za466-tornado-wreck-tabuk-6 (Image: KeithM3, reproduced with permission)

Then in September 2002, the Tornado’s remains were dumped on the grass alongside other redundant British military jets near the maintenance hangars that had housed many of them for years. Left for the scrap man, the long road home from Operation Granby was finally at an end. (Meanwhile, the RAF’s Tornado F3 fleet is being RTP’d – reduced to produce.)

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