RAF Tornado fighter-bomber interceptor goes into private hands

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A relic of the Cold War, the British Royal Air Force’s flagship Tornado F2 ADV fighter-bomber interceptor, is set to cross the Atlantic and find a new home in America. Developed by British Aerospace in the 1970s, this specific aircraft, known as ZD902, was designed for air defense.

Since its decommissioning by the RAF in the summer of 2012, ZD902 has been absent from the skies. Next year, however, that might change. American billionaire Jared Isaacman has acquired this unique piece of aviation history. In a recent social media post, Isaacman proudly displayed his new Tornado F2 and announced that it would take about a year to get the plane back in the air.

Interestingly, Isaacman already owns a Soviet MiG-29, so we might soon witness an unusual reunion of these Cold War adversaries flying together. The ZD902 itself has an intriguing history, having been active at the British test center in Boscombe Down. It was put up for sale in 2016 by Jet Art Aviation and stored at Leeds East Airport until Isaacman’s acquisition.

RAF Tornado fighter-bomber interceptor goes into private hands
Photo credit: Twitter

Tornado F2A ADV

The Tornado F.2 ADV, developed by British Aerospace, is an interceptor variant of the Panavia Tornado, primarily designed for air defense roles. The aircraft was part of the Tornado ADV [Air Defense Variant] series, which also includes the Tornado F.3. The F.2 was an early version that saw limited production and service before being superseded by the F.3.

In terms of dimensions, the Tornado F.2 has a length of approximately 18.68 meters [61.3 feet], a wingspan of 13.91 meters [45.6 feet] when fully extended, and a height of 5.95 meters [19.5 feet]. The variable-sweep wing design allows the wings to be swept back to 25 degrees for takeoff and landing or up to 67 degrees for high-speed flight.

RAF Tornado fighter-bomber interceptor goes into private hands
Photo credit: Twitter

The propulsion system of the Tornado F.2 consists of two Turbo-Union RB199-34R Mk 103 turbofan engines. These engines provide a maximum thrust of 16,410 pounds-force [73 kN] each with an afterburner, enabling the aircraft to reach speeds of up to Mach 2.2 at altitude.

F2A’s systems

Technical characteristics of the Tornado F2A include advanced avionics and radar systems for its time. The aircraft is equipped with the AI.24 Foxhunter radar, which is capable of tracking multiple targets simultaneously and providing guidance for its air-to-air missiles.

RAF Tornado fighter-bomber interceptor goes into private hands
Photo credit: Twitter

The avionics suite of the Tornado F2A includes a digital navigation and attack system, a head-up display [HUD], and multi-function displays [MFDs] in the cockpit. These systems enhance the pilot’s situational awareness and mission capability.

The Tornado F2A is equipped with various systems to support its operational roles, including electronic countermeasures [ECM], radar warning receivers (RWR), and chaff/flare dispensers for defense against enemy radar and missile threats.

Under the wings

RAF Tornado fighter-bomber interceptor goes into private hands
Photo credit: Flickr

In terms of armament, the Tornado F2A can carry a variety of weapons. Its primary armament includes AIM-7 Sparrows and AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. The aircraft is also equipped with a 27mm Mauser BK-27 cannon for close-range combat.

The operational range of the Tornado F2A is approximately 1,390 kilometers [865 miles] without refueling. This range can be extended with in-flight refueling capabilities, allowing the aircraft to perform long-duration missions and maintain air superiority over extended distances.

It was made to fight MiG-29

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The Tornado F2A ADV was built by the United Kingdom to counter the threat of Soviet aircraft like the MiG-29. The MiG-29 is known for its agility, speed, and advanced technology, making it a tough opponent for NATO during the Cold War. The Tornado F2A ADV was designed with a focus on long-range interception and advanced radar systems to meet these challenges.

One of the main features of the Tornado F2A ADV is its advanced radar system, the AI.24 Foxhunter. This radar allows the Tornado to detect and track multiple targets from far away, giving it a big advantage in long-range battles. The MiG-29, although very maneuverable, is best in close-range dogfights, so the Tornado’s long-range capabilities are key.

The Tornado F2A ADV comes with long-range air-to-air missiles like the AIM-120 AMRAAM and the Skyflash missile. These missiles can hit enemy planes from a distance, that the MiG-29’s short-range missiles can’t reach. This means the Tornado can take out the MiG-29 before it gets close enough to fight back.

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Photo credit: Reddit

High-speed interception

While the Tornado F2A ADV isn’t as fast or agile as the MiG-29, it’s built for high-speed interception and can fly supersonic for longer periods. This lets it quickly respond to threats and protect large areas or important targets.

The Tornado F2A ADV has a two-seat setup: one seat for the pilot and the other for the weapons systems officer [WSO]. The WSO handles the radar and weapons, so the pilot can focus on flying. This teamwork makes the Tornado more effective in complex combat situations, giving it an edge over the single-seat MiG-29.

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Photo credit: Medium

The Tornado F2A ADV is also part of NATO’s wider air defense network. This setup lets the Tornado get live data from AWACS planes and ground radar stations. Thus boosting situational awareness and coordination during fights. This teamwork is a big advantage against advanced threats like the MiG-29.

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