On Monday 13 September, Mrs Susan Winfield OBE, Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear and President of the North of England Reserve Forces’ and Cadets’ Association, accepted the gift of a Panavia Tornado F3 ZE204 jet fighter from the Royal Air Force on behalf of the people of the North East of England. The gift has regional significance given its service from RAF Leeming, and is a tribute to the support that the region has given to the RAF. The presentation was made by AVM Colin Da’Silva, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Plans), on behalf of the RAF, who said he was doubly delighted to be making the presentation because he had been a navigator on the Tornado F3!
The importance of the gift to the region was recognised by the attendance at the event of the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Mrs Sue Snowdon, Lady Charlotte Peel, Honorary Commodore of 607 (County Durham) Squadron and Deputy Lord Lieutenant North Yorks, Deputy Lord Lieutenants from each of the Lieutenancies across our region, the Mayor and Mayoress of Sunderland and other distinguished guests, both military and civilian.
The Tornado F3 will be permanently displayed at the North East Land Sea and Air Museum (NELSAM) and is important to NELSAM as it gives the museum the opportunity to bring the story of the Air Defence of the UK to visitors. This is especially evocative as the museum site was an RAF station during the Battle of Britain in 1940.
The Panavia Tornado F3 entered service with the Royal Air Force at RAF Coningsby in 1986 with 229 Operational Conversion Unit. The first squadron became operational in early 1987. As an aircraft it served in the front line Air Defence of the United Kingdom from the three principal bases of RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, RAF Leuchars in Fife and RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire.
A total of 147 Tornado F3 aircraft went into service with the RAF and were first deployed on operations during Gulf War 1 in 1991. The aircraft also flew operationally over Bosnia, Yugoslavia and Iraq. The aircraft were withdrawn from service in 2011 with the disbandment of the final squadron at RAF Leuchars. This brought to an end 25 years of defending the airspace of the United Kingdom.
Tornado F3 ZE204 first flew on the 10th of September 1986 and served with the majority of Tornado Air Defence units at the three principal operating bases. It was one of 18 aircraft deployed to Saudi Arabia in September 1990 for Operation GRANBY during the first Gulf War. The aircraft spent the majority of its service career at RAF Leeming where it was retired from flying in December 2007. It was moved to the Defence Fire Training and Development Centre (DFTDC) at RAF Manston where for 8 years it performed a valuable role training service fire fighters. With the closure of RAF Manston in 2021, it was transferred to the North East, Land Sea and Air Museum for future display.
Used with permission - Photo Copyright Mark Ray. Tornado F3 ZE204 on one its last sorties from RAF Leeming