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Panavia Tornado celebrates 40 years of first flight

Panavia Tornado celebrates 40 years of flight this week in Manching, Germany the site of the aircraft’s maiden test flight on August 14th 1974.

Over 800 guests from industry, governments and airforces involved in the service and operation of the aircraft gathered to celebrate a major collaborative success story between founding nations Germany, United Kingdom and Italy. It is a story which has seen the Panavia Tornado complete over three million flying hours and engage in operations in Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Libya and Africa.

Nearly 1000 Panavia Tornado aircraft have been produced and delivered to the air forces of Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia. The last aircraft was delivered to the Royal Saudi-Arabian Airforce in March 1998, making the Tornado the largest European military aircraft cooperation program in history.

The Host and Managing Director of Panavia, Dr. Welf-Werner Degel, said: “When I started to prepare for this event I had a lot of contact with former members of the Tornado team. They displayed an overwhelmingly positive team spirit. I asked many former members of Tornado what were the key factors involved in the early development and testing of the aircraft? They all said it was the human factor, the real and absolute desire to succeed.”

It was a sentiment echoed by both co-hosts of the event.  Air Vice-Marshal and General Manager of NETMA, Graham Farnell, added: “I have a long association with the aircraft, the aircraft itself is quite amazing, it replaced a multitude of platforms and was instrumental in creating an understanding between nations, without which we would not be here today.”

The Air Vice-Marshal also praised the collaboration within industry: “The two consortia, Panavia creating the airframe and Turbo union creating the engine, have worked tirelessly together to create an awesome platform which so many have enjoyed operating and which has been really successful throughout the world.”

Part of the success was explained during a video presentation marking the development and progression of the Tornado in which Group Captain Harvey Smyth said: “The airframe is 40 years old, but the actual capability has continued to evolve almost every year of its life.”

Hosts of the event were joined on-stage by several high ranking officials, one of which, Air Marshall Greg Bagwell, recalled his experiences with the Panavia Tornado: “I will never forget the first night mission, when we plugged in the terrain following radar system. You would be 1500ft above the mountains of Scotland or Wales. As you engaged the system the aircraft would dive down with your hand off the stick to settle at 300ft, going 500mph and just fly through the valleys.”

Chief of Italian Air Force Operations, Lieutenant General Maurizio Lodovisi, a former Aeronautica Militare Tornado pilot who has seen active service in Kosovo, also spoke of his time with the aircraft: “The Tornado was the beginning of a new era. The aircraft is wonderful both inside and outside the envelope. It is a magical aircraft.”

Those on stage included the Vice Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Peter Schelzig who had no doubt over the Tornado’s future: “The Tornado is the most mature, combat ready aircraft within the inventory of the German Air Force. We plan to keep 85 within our inventory, all of which will receive the latest upgrades...I see the potential for more than 10 years in this Aircraft, and the Luftwaffe and Bundeswehr are looking into the possibility of using the aircraft even longer.”

Colonel Andreas Korb, Commander Tactical Fighter Wing 33 German Air Force, added: “The aircraft can perform on an operational basis for at least a decade more.”

Co-host of the event and Executive Vice president of Airbus Defence & Space and head of military aircraft Domingo Ureña-Raso, said: “We hope to have this aircraft till at least 2035 and we are happy to continue working on this aircraft for many decades to come.”

The Panavia Tornado is widely regarded as the international gold standard of procurement and collaboration between nations. It has enabled the formation of a common culture between partner air forces and industries, and has laid the blue-print for future military aerospace collaborations for years to come.