A Cold War veteran bowed out today as the last eight Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado strike aircraft retired from active service after 40 years. Watched by the friends and families of present-day squadron members, the swept-winged multi-role fighters touched down at RAF Marham in Norfolk, England after flying back from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, where they had been deployed in Coalition operations against the Daesh terrorist group in Syria.

Originally based on the legendary aeronautical pioneer Barnes Wallis's idea for a swept wing aircraft, the Panavia Tornado evolved into a two-man, twin-engined multirole strike fighter with a then-revolutionary fly-by-wire system and a variable geometry wing that allowed it to not only fly at Mach 1.3 (1,414 mph, 1,552 km/h), but also carry out low-level penetration of enemy defenses.

It was built in three variants by a joint British, Italian, and German consortium and replaced a wide range of bombers, interceptors, and other combat aircraft after it entered service with the RAF in 1979, followed by the Italian Air Force, the German Luftwaffe, and the Royal Saudi Air Force. It was capable of carrying a wide variety or armaments, including Sidewinder, Brimstone, and Storm Shadow missiles, Paveway bombs, and tactical nuclear weapons.

Though it was originally built to counter Warsaw Pact forces, the Tornado first saw combat during the 1991 Gulf War when 60 Tornado GR1 variants went into action from bases in Saudi Arabia against Iraqi forces. Since then, it has been in active service in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria.

According to the RAF, the Tornado's duties will be taken over by the Typhoon Eurofighter and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter. Meanwhile, the last RAF Tornados will be used for training duties until the end of March, when they will be formally retired.

"My sincerest congratulations to the Tornado Force, returning home after more than four years of continuous commitment to defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria – an exceptional effort from everyone, well done and thank you," says Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier.

"As a Tornado GR4 pilot myself, I have seen the aircraft develop over its nearly 40 years of service into an outstanding combat aircraft, flown, maintained and supported by similarly outstanding air and ground crew. The Tornado Force has been continuously deployed on operations since 1990, serving with immense distinction in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and the Balkans.

"I will personally be very sad to see the Tornado retire, but it is time now to pass the baton to our next generation combat aircraft. The F-35B Lightning is now operational and the Typhoon is now fully multi-role capable and able to take on the Tornado's missions."

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