RAF hands over famous Tornado to WA Aviation Museum

June 18, 2022
Royal Air Force Wing Commander Erica Ferguson. Credit: Matt Jelonek/Matt Jelonek

“Yeah, right. Australia. Of, course we can donate a Tornado to Australia.”

That was the initial reaction from Royal Air Force Wing Commander Erica Ferguson to Aviation Heritage Museum WA’s bold request for a Royal Air Force Tornado bomber that was being retired after thirty years of distinguished service.

And this wasn’t just any old bomber the Tornados had been part of the famous 617 Dambuster squadron that in 1943 had devastated Germany’s wartime production destroying dams in the Rohr Valley with bouncing bombs dropped from lumbering Avro Lancasters at just 20m above the dam water.

After initially discarding the request letter from the other side of the world Wg Cdr Ferguson thought “I am not a say no kind of person” and picked it up and thought maybe.

“I read about the museum and its Lancaster, and I went online, and I read about the fantastic stories that it tells, particularly of the Royal Australian Air Force personnel who flew in the 617 squadron on the Lancaster.

“I thought, there really is a story to tell here and my aim is to tell stories as widely as possible, to engage the broadest possible audience and how could I have done that better, than to lead a fabulous team to bring a Tornado out to Western Australia?”

The Tornado story is well told with aircraft in museums in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Island but the Aviation Heritage Museum is the only location outside the UK to receive a Tornado.

Commander Erica Ferguson with the JARTS team pose for a photo in front of a RAF Tornado at the Aviation Heritage Museum. Credit: Matt Jelonek/Matt Jelonek

According to Wg Cdr Ferguson what sealed the deal was the passion and skillset of the volunteers who make the museum work so well.

The Tornado was shipped Fremantle in parts and has been reassembled this week by the RAF’s Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transport Squadron and will be formally handed over on Tuesday.

Wg Cdr Ferguson, a former RAF air traffic controller, examiner and instructor, is Heritage Lead for the Royal Air Force which produces and implements the RAF’s Heritage Strategy and provides advice and guidance on the identification, preservation and sharing of that important heritage.

Head of Clear Skies RAAFA, which oversees the museum, Ian Craig said that the Tornado GR4 is “a really exciting and significant addition to the RAAFA Aviation Museum’s collection.

“We have the Lancaster and the Spitfire, which also represent the close relationship and cooperation between the Australian and UK air forces, plus there are many Australians who have flown, worked on or had an association with the RAF Tornado fleet.

“This has been an ongoing project for over 3 years. It has been such a privilege to work with the RAF, RAAF and RAAFA WA teams to actually get the Tornado to Australian shores.

“There have been 100’s of hours put into this. We are so lucky to have been chosen as the only museum outside the UK to have a GR4 on display,” Mr Craig said.

The Tornado that has been gifted is a GR4 and was delivered to the RAF in 1992 and served with various squadrons before being moved to the famous 617 squadron in 2004 and carried the tail code AJ-T, commemorating Dam Buster Lancaster of US pilot Joe “Big Joe” McCarthy.

It was retired in 2019 after service in both Gulf Wars, in Afghanistan and Iraq and most recently in operations against ISIS over Syria.

Although smaller than a four-engine Lancaster the twin-engine Tornado packs a real punch.

It is almost 10 times faster at a top speed of 2,400km/hr and can fly to more than twice the altitude at 15,000m and can carry almost 50 per cent more payload than the Lancaster.