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Tornado jets that fly from RAF Marham in Norfolk clock up a million flying hours

PUBLISHED: 23:58 27 June 2011 | UPDATED: 00:16 28 June 2011

An RAF Tornado jet prepares for take off.

An RAF Tornado jet prepares for take off.

Crown Copyright 2011

They're a familiar sight and sound in the skies above Norfolk, as crews prepare to deploy to trouble-spots around the world. Last night it emerged the Tornado jet had racked up more than a million flying hours.

Tornado facts

Developed jointly as a multi-role combat aircraft by Britain, Germany and Italy, the Panavia Tornado first flew in 1974, and joined the RAF soon after.

Crewed by a pilot and navigator, the swing-wing jets can fly at 1,000 mph and perform a wide range of tasks.

Tornados have played a leading role in both Gulf Wars and other conflicts around the world.

Their most modern variant bristles with sophisticated imaging pods, which can help find IEDs (improvised explosive devices) before they threaten ground troops in Afghanistan.

As the Libyan conflict began, the aircraft flew 3,000-mile missions from their Norfolk base to launch missiles at Libyan dictator Col Gaddafi’s air defences.

Veteran of the Balkans and two Gulf wars, it rose to the challenge of protecting allied ground troops in war-torn Afghanistan with its incredible array of on-board reconnaissance equipment.

When world leaders decided it was time for action in Libya, the RAF’s Tornado jets took to the skies, flying 3,000-mile sorties from their Norfolk base to North Africa.

Last night, the RAF’s mainstay celebrated flying a million hours, as an aircraft from 617 Sqdn - the famed Dambusters Squadron - clocked up the milestone with a sortie over Afghanistan.

First flown in 1979, the Tornado has been in action ever since. The 1,000 mph aircraft are a regular sight - and sound - in the skies over West Norfolk.

Last night Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said:

“This impressive milestone is testament not only to the Tornado as a cutting-edge military aircraft but also to the skill and professionalism of the RAF aircrew, engineers and support staff who have supported it in service for more than 30 years, and who continue to deliver its world-leading ground attack and reconnaissance capabilities today in Libya and Afghanistan.”

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, said: “The Tornado has been used to deny enemy airfields and strike their hardware and infrastructure, enforce no-fly zones, provide close air support to troops on the ground, and it continues to be a world-leading combat intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft in Afghanistan and Libya.

“The range of sophisticated precision weapons and cutting-edge sensors Tornado carries and the ability to grow these capabilities further will provide the Royal Air Force with the rapid far-reaching air power it requires to protect the nation’s interests for many years to come.”

The RAF has five front line Tornado squadrons - three of them are currently based at Marham.

The future of the Norfolk airfield remains in doubt, as ministers and defence officals look to down-size the Tornado force at a single base.

Politicians and community leaders rallied behind an EDP campaign to Make it Marham, which saw a petition delivered to 10 Downing Street in support of the Norfolk base. An announcement is expected next month.

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