Published on March 17th, 2020 | by Mark Dwyer0
A Storm on the Wing
The Ulster Aviation Society is about to acquire a tamed Tornado. The organisation, the largest collection of historic aircraft in Ireland, is due to receive the former Royal Air Force machine on
March 24 th, according to UAS Chairman Ray Burrows.
***Update 17th March, the arrival of the Tornado has been delayed, a new date will be published when it is confirmed***
“We’re absolutely thrilled with this development,” he said, noting that it’s taken months of negotiation for the RAF to finally ‘gift’ the Tornado to the Society. Much of the credit for the success of those efforts is due to Air Vice-Marshal Harv Smyth, who happens to be patron for the UAS. He was recently appointed the first director of the U.K.’s military space campaign.
Smyth estimates he has amassed some 3800 hours in fast jets, with about 227 of those in the Tornado. That includes some time aboard ZG771, the aircraft acquired by the Ulster Aviation Society, he said in an interview.
He considers it a symbol for younger generations visiting the museum. “From a heritage standpoint, it’ll be good to see the Tornado there, considering all the good that the aviation society does,” he said. “It’s an aircraft that provided 40 years of service to the country. To me, this was too good an opportunity to miss.”
Much about the big jet is remarkable, from the type’s unique swing-wing design to its combat record with the Royal Air Force. Tornadoes were in action during their 40-year RAF career in (among other locations) the skies over Afghanistan, Bosnia, both Gulf wars and Libya.
The particular GR4 variant acquired by the UAS was designed to train the crews of those combat aircraft; as such, it is a special, two-seated version with duplicate controls. Mr. Burrows pointed out that the Society has been specially favoured with its acquisition of the Tornado: “Very few GR4’s have been delivered to museums in the UK and ours is the first one to be ‘gifted’ to a non-national collection.”
The Society’s aircraft is due to arrive by ferry in Belfast Harbour. A convoy of five large RAF lorries will carry the dismantled Tornado from harbour to home—in this case, the twin hangars of the aviation society at the Maze/Long Kesh site, Lisburn.
Specialists from JARTS (Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transportation Squadron) had dismantled ZG771 at RAF Marham last year. Mr. Burrows explained that it couldn’t be flown to Northern Ireland because it had been stripped of the equipment necessary to do so. The Tornados were the cutting edge of the RAF and NATO’s attack force and, as such, contained secret “black boxes” which were removed from all Tornados at RAF Marham. “The whole Tornado fleet was being dismantled there and it made sound economic sense to do our aircraft there as well,” said Mr. Burrows.
The Society itself is a totally volunteer, registered charity, with nearly 700 members. It recently marked its 50th birthday with the honour of a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. Further information about the Society can be found at www.ulsteraviationsociety.org
The arrival time of the Stena ferry at Victoria Terminal 3 is 6.30 a.m., Tue., March 24 t . The exact route/timing to the UAS hangars, Maze/Long Kesh, has not been confirmed at this point, but will begin at Belfast Harbour and head via the Westlink and M1 to the hangars.
Main photo: Tornado ZG771, the aircraft acquired by the UAS, is seen here just after takeoff at the 2016 RIAT air display, RAF Fairford. By Carlo Barcelo.