During the late 1960's a number of countries were looking at replacing their existing military aircraft fleets. Many of these countries had or were considering variable geometry as a means of making an aircraft perform well throughout a wider flight envelope. Variable geometry allows the pilot and/or fly by wire system to adapt the aircraft wing shape to the optimal settings dependant on its height, speed and load. The Tornado takes this one step further and incorporates swivelling weapons pylons that always ensure the stores are parallel to the airframe and therefore the airflow, thus minimising drag.


Britain and France joined forces on a variable geometry aircraft project, called the AFVG. (Anglo French Variable Geometry). France was already in the process of developing a variable geometry airframe of its own. In 1968, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, and Canada formed a working group to look at replacements for the F104. The outcome of this project was initially called the MRA or Multi Role Aircraft, later changed to the MRCA, Multi Role Combat Aircraft. Britain later joined this group on the strength of its variable geometry design.

The MRCA was initially viewed as two different aircraft, a single seat F104G replacement for Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Canada, and as a two seat strike aircraft for Britain and Germany.

In July 1968 a memorandum of understanding was signed by Germany, Italy and Britain covering the proposals for the MRCA. Canada and Belgium pulled out the following year. Holland later pulled out over technical concerns with the MRCA.

The initial Tornado design was for a deep penetration all weather bomber, known as the IDS (Interdictor Strike). This aircraft is designed to fly at extremely low level at high speed in almost any weather. At low level the Tornado excels, the large all moving tailerons and fin provide the necessary damping action to keep the ride relatively smooth and on track.

The MoU covered work share for the partner companies, which was initially allocated as shown in the table below. The Tornado project was controlled by a central company, Panavia GmbH based in Munich, Germany. This company was formed by the three member countries who each had a share, Britain & Germany held 42% and Italy held the remaining 15%.


Britain Germany Italy
Front Fuselage Centre Fuselage Wings
Tail Assembly    


A further company, Turbo Union was formed to produce the engines for the MRCA/Tornado, it was comprised of the following shareholders, 40% MTU, 40% Rolls Royce and 20% FIAT.

There were initially two variants of the MRCA to be produced, these being the PA100 which was to be a single seater and the PA200 which was the two seat aircraft that eventually became the Tornado.

Britain later decided that it wanted an air defence version of the Tornado. Britain went ahead at built three prototypes under the designation F2. As this version would be involved in seeking other aircraft rather than ground targets a different radar was required. The three prototype airframes were as follows,

AirframeVariantFirst Flight


There were few significant changes between the IDS and the ADV/F2, the most noticeable was the longer ,more slender nose, this was to enable the AI24 radar to be fitted. The advent of the RB199-34 Mk 104 engines which were installed in ZA267 first, saw a new designation, F3. All ADV airframes from 19 onwards, (18 F2s had been produced.) were fitted with this engine.

All Tornado variants have easily accessible radar. The radar electronics are mounted within the forward airframe and easily accessible once the radome has been hinged out of the way.

The F2/F3s Foxhunter radar is produced by GEC Marconi and Ferranti and is a pulse Doppler frequency modulated interrupted carrier wave set operating in I band(3cm). The AI24 radar had a troubled early life, the first F2s had lead weights installed as ballast in place of the AI24. The feasibility study for the new radar set was started in 1973, with full scale development beginning in 1976. Since its inception it has been delivered in various different modification states, W, Z, stage 1, stage 2, AA and possibly other interim standards.

The GR1 has two radar, one attack and one terrain following, they are both produced by Texas Instruments and operate in KU band.

Engine Installation

The two RB199 turbofan engines are mounted in the rear of the airframe with the compressor faces positioned just to the rear of the fin air intake. The engines are mounted within individual cells to afford some protection should a fire or other catastrophic failure occur. The APU is mounted on the starboard side to the rear of the undercarriage bay, it exhausts just ahead of the starboard taileron. The engine intakes have a combination of spill ducts, suction relief doors and hydraulically controlled ramps to control the amount and speed of the air entering the intake.

I am aware of the following major engine models,



Power, Dry

Power, Reheat

RB199-34R 101

Early IDS



RB199-34R 103

Batch 4 onwards



RB199-34R 104




RB199-34R 105



A number of the Mk101 engines were upgraded to the Mk103 standard. The Mk 103 included an improved lubrication system and modifications to improve its reliability. The Mk104 was optimised for mid and high altitude performance, it has a digital engine control system, FADEC(Full Authority Digital Engine Control) and a lengthened jet pipe hence the modifications to the rear fuselage of the F.3/ADV.  The Mk 105 is basically a Mk 103 with a modified compressor section that operates at a higher compression ratio than the Mk 103.


The airframe is built around an immensely strong electron beam welded titanium wing box. The central spine houses the  control rods and engine bleed air ducting for the environmental systems. Large hydraulically actuated air brakes are positioned either side of the fin. The undercarriage is of wide track and sturdy design. It incorporates single wheel main gear and a twin wheel nose assembly. The undercarriage retracts forwards into the airframe.

A centre fuselage section being manufactured by MBB 
(C) Panavia Aircraft (Services) Ltd.


The use of a variable geometry wing allows the tornado to perform well across its entire flight envelope. The wing is assisted with full length slats, flaps and spoilers. The wing is generally used in one of three positions, fully forward, used for take off and landing as it gives tornado good low speed handling; mid sweep, gives best agility or fully swept, which allows best performance.

Tornado wing production line    
(C) Panavia Aircraft (Services) Ltd.

wpe10.jpg (3100 bytes)

A view of an RAF Tornado F3 showing the wing in the mid position, This view also clearly shows the four recesses in the fuselage for the Skyflash missiles and the two wing pylons in line with the fuselage.

Control Surfaces

The primary control surfaces of the tornado are the large all moving tailerons and the rudder, they are assisted by the slats, spoilers and flaps. The control surfaces are continually monitored and adjusted by the triplex fly by wire system. The fly by wire system is located on the starboard side just behind the cannon. A backup system is enabled should the fly by wire system fail.


The Tornado bristles with a large number of visible and hidden antennae. The more prominent ones are as follows, blade aerial ahead of cockpit, IFF; dual blade antennae on the fuselage spine, UHF; blade aerial lower surface of airframe ahead of the cockpit, TACAN/UHF; fin mounted fairing at rear, ECM; blade antennae on side of fin, VOR. Other faired antennae include the following, top of fin, VHF; lower front of fin root, HF; wing glove, ECM. A company called Avionica Systems Engineering was formed on the 28th August 1969 to oversee the avionics program.

In Built Armament

The standard inboard cannon fitted in various combinations to most Tornados is the Mauser 27mm cannon, located singly or in tandem below the cockpit floor. Some versions such as the GR1A do not carry any cannons.


The Tornado airframe was designed with maintenance in mind, although over the test of time I am sure a few engineers have doubted this fact. However the airframe has approximately 350 hinged or removable access panels to assist the engineers.

Maintenance Panels Schematic


The production allocation for the Panavia Tornado was as follows, Britain 48%, Germany 40% and Italy 12%. The production of the tornado took place at three sites, one in each of the consortium members country. In Britain major component assembly was undertaken at BAE Preston and BAE Samlesbury with final construction taking place at Warton in Lancashire. In Germany the centre fuselage was assembled at Augsburg with final assembly at Manching. In Italy the wing and other components were assembled at in Naples and Turin with final assembly at Caselle.

The number of Tornados initially to be produced by each country was as follows, Britain 385, Germany 324 and Italy 100. There have also been a number of Tornados produced for Saudi Arabia, the current totals are as follows, 96 IDS and 24 ADV.  It should be noted all Tornado trainers are fully mission capable.