Tornado GR4 flown in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria goes on permanent display in Perth

Perth’s Aviation Heritage Museum is celebrating the arrival of a Tornado GR4 to its collection of historic aircraft after a long campaign.

Royal Australian Air Force Association (RAAFA) WA head Ian Craig says the organization began applying to get the aircraft, which the public can see from next month at the Bull Creek museum, from the United Kingdom three years ago.

“We started this campaign in June 2019 so it’s been exactly three years,” Mr Craig told Christine Layton on ABC Radio Perth.

“It’s the only Tornado in the world, the GR4, [on display] outside of the UK.

Wing Commander Erica Ferguson and Ian Craig, centre, with the RAF crew that reassembled the Tornado GR4.(Supplied: Aviation Heritage Museum)

Wing Commander Erica Ferguson, head of heritage and stories for the Royal Air Force (RAF), said it was an easy decision to choose the RAAFA museum from the 63 applications she received for the decommissioned aircraft.

“When I saw how great the stories already being told out at Bull Creek were and how amazingly skilled and dedicated the volunteers and staff were there, it was quite an easy choice to make,” she said.

“My job is to ensure the important stories of the men and women of the Royal Air Force can be told to a broad audience, and what broader audience could we get than out here in Western Australia?

Vital to preserve military history

Wing Commander Ferguson started her career as an air traffic controller, largely controlling the Tornadoes that were the backbone of RAF operations for more than 30 years.

“It’s a multi-role combat aircraft. We had fighter variants, bomber variants, and photo-reconnaissance aircraft,” she said.

“This one [brought to Perth] was one of the ground attack aircraft.

The Tornado GR4 is the only one of its kind in a museum outside the UK
The Tornado GR4 is the only one of its kind in a museum outside the UK.(Supplied: Wing Commander Erica Ferguson)

“Most recently, back in 2019, just before this aircraft was retired from service, she was participating in the operations over Syria against ISIS.”

Not all decommissioned military aircraft go into museums, but Wing Commander Ferguson said it was considered essential that some did.

“It’s important because it’s a tool for telling the important stories of those who’ve flown and operated the aircraft over time.”

Airborne treasure arrives by sea

Despite being a high-powered machine, the Tornado was not flown to Perth from the UK but disassembled and shipped over.

The Tornado GR4 was dismantled and ready to be loaded onto a cargo ship.
The Tornado GR4 was dismantled and loaded onto a cargo ship to come to Australia.(Supplied: Wing Commander Erica Ferguson)

“In order to fly here, it would have been such an enormous cost and logistic issue with refueling and staging through different places. It was far more efficient to bring her by ship,” Wing Commander Ferguson said.

“It took about six weeks on the ship, we all became ship spotters.

“Then I brought a team out of six Royal Air Force technicians who have put her back together. She’s a complicated aircraft because she has swing wings, wings that can go backwards to increase the speed.”

Tornado brings collection into new era

Mr Craig said the arrival of the Tornado had aroused huge excitement among the community, particularly veterans.

“We have a whole Tornado community in Australia, so many exchange pilots who actually flew our aircraft. There are a lot of technicians who worked on them in the UK,” he said.

Tornado GR4 took six weeks to reach Australia by ship from the UK
The Tornado GR4 took six weeks to reach Australia by ship.(Supplied: Wing Commander Erica Ferguson)

He said it also brought the collection into a new era of reflecting on more recent wars and conflicts.

“We have one of only 17 Lancasters left in the world, we have a Spitfire, we have a Dakota, we have a Catalina,” he said.

“Our collection is world-renowned and it’s sitting here in little old Perth in Bull Creek, it’s just amazing that we’ve got this collection here.

“What the Tornado really means is that we’re moving now into a new era of more modern aircraft.

The public’s first chance to see the Tornado will be at a community open weekend on July 2 and 3.

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