The German Air Force, also known as the Luftwaffe, is planning to keep its Tornado multirole strike aircraft in active service till 2030, as it carried out the first flight of the aircraft with an extended service life in collaboration with Airbus.
According to reports, the first Tornado of 43 + 42 series of the Tactical Air Force Wing 33, flew from the Airbus facilities in Manching, following a modernization process aimed at increasing the life of the airframe from 6000 to 8000 hours.
In order to extend the service life of the aircraft, Airbus had to replace several important components of the Tornado including the connecting element between the front and the middle part of the fuselage. It also reproduced parts, which were no longer available.
The Tornado, which was inducted in 1979, remains in service with the German, Italian, and Saudi Air Forces.
“The exchange of important structural parts, such as the ring frame, was a first,” the Luftwaffe said. “Originally it was never planned that this connecting element between the front and middle part of the fuselage would ever have to be replaced. Therefore, the civil-military team could not simply order replacement parts. Each of the 400 or so structural parts required was reproduced and reinstalled for the first time – there is no such thing off the shelf.”
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A Luftwaffe spokesperson mentioned that it took nearly 2,000 steps to dismantle and reassemble the aircraft, as the airframe overhaul requires complete dismantling and reassembly of the fuselage which took place at the Airbus Defense and Space plant in Manching, southern Germany.
“A decision by the Federal Ministry of Defence was decisive for the laborious step of dismantling the fuselage. According to this, all 85 Tornados should remain in service until the end of 2030. This can only be achieved if such extensive work is done.”
The Panavia Tornado is a family of twin-engine, variable-sweep wing multirole combat aircraft, jointly developed and manufactured by Italy, the United Kingdom, and erstwhile West Germany.
There are three primary Tornado variants: the Tornado IDS (interdictor/strike) fighter-bomber, the suppression of enemy air defenses Tornado ECR (electronic combat/reconnaissance), and the Tornado ADV (air defense variant) interceptor aircraft.
The Tornado was developed and built by Panavia Aircraft GmbH, a tri-national consortium consisting of British Aerospace (previously British Aircraft Corporation), MBB of West Germany, and Aeritalia of Italy. It first flew on August 14, 1974, and was introduced into service in 1979–1980.
Due to its multirole design, it was able to replace several different fleets of aircraft in the adopting air forces. The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) became the only export operator of the Tornado in addition to the three original partner nations.
A tri-nation training and evaluation unit operating from RAF Cottesmore, the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment, maintained a level of international co-operation beyond the production stage.
The Tornado was operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF), Italian Air Force, and RSAF during the Gulf War of 1991, in which the Tornado conducted many low-altitude penetrating strike missions.
The Tornados of various services were also used in the Bosnian War, Kosovo War, Iraq War, 2011 Libyan civil war, as well as smaller roles in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria. A total of 990 units of the aircraft were built.
In April 2020, Germany announced its replacement for the Tornado aircraft will be a split purchase of 30 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, 15 EA-18G Growlers, and 55 Eurofighter Typhoons. The Super Hornet was selected due to its compatibility with nuclear weapons and availability of an electronic attack version.
Italy, on the other hand, is planning to replace the Tornado with F-35 Lightning-II 5th Generation stealth aircraft from the United States by 2025.