Published on March 17th, 2020 | by Mark Dwyer


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 24th, 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.”

AVM Harv Smyth, left, with UAS Chairman Ray Burrows, during a Tornado visit in 2018 to RAF Aldergrove. By Alan Moller.

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.

Tornado ZG771 during the dismantling operation at RAF Marham in 2019.  At that stage, the canopy and tailerons had been removed and the left wing was about to be dismantled.  By Alan Jarden

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

The arrival time of the Stena ferry at Victoria Terminal 3 is 6.30 a.m., Tue., March 24t.   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.

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About the Author

Mark is an airline pilot flying the Boeing 737 for a major European airline. In addition he is also a Type Rating Instructor, Type Rating Examiner and Base Training Captain on the B737. Outside of commercial flying Mark enjoys flying light aircraft from the smallest 3 Axis microlights up to heavier singles. He is also an instructor and EASA Examiner on single engines and a UK CAA Examiner. He flies the Chipmunk for the Irish Historic Flight Foundation (IHFF). Mark became the Chairman of the National Microlight Association of Ireland (NMAI) in 2013 and has overseen a massive growth in the organisation. In this role he has worked at local and national levels. In 2015, Mark won ‘Upcoming Aviation Professional Award’ at the Aviation Industry Awards sponsored by the IAA. Mark launched this website back in 2002 while always managing the website, he has also been Editor and Deputy Editor of FlyingInIreland Magazine from 2005 to 2015.

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