How Sly RAF Tornado Crews Repeatedly Killed U.S. Navy F-14s And F/A-18s In Training

The Tornado ADV couldn’t turn and burn with high-performance fighters of the era, but it could still clean their clocks using creative tactics.

byTyler Rogoway|
Air Combat Exercises photo


When most people think of a the Panavia Tornado today the interdiction/strike (IDS) or electronic countermeasures/reconnaissance (ECR) variants come to mind. But the air defense variant (ADV) of the swing-wing Cold War era combat jet lived an entirely different life than its non air-to-air focused cousins. These jets were interceptors optimized primarily to efficiently hunt down and destroy Soviet bombers over long ranges, and their maneuverability was notoriously lacking when compared to fighters of the same era. But after some major developmental hurdles, the jet's straight line performance, Foxhunter radars, and Skyflash missiles proved to be a deadly combination, especially when paired with a very well trained aircrew. 

Phil Keeble was a pilot flying the Tornado ADV F3 during the waning days of the Cold War. In an interview on the wonderful Aircrew Interview Youtube channel, he explains how the Royal Air Force used some very well tailored tactics to take on the very best fighters the U.S. Navy had to offer and come out on top time and time again.

RAF Tornado F3 bristling with Skyflash and AIM-9L/M missiles and external fuel tanks. , MoD

In particular Keeble recalls one deployment to RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus for gunnery practice in Spring of 1990. There Tornado ADV and BAE Hawk crews gave F-14 Tomcats and F/A-18 Hornets a particularly bad time during some impromptu dissimilar air combat training (DACT) exercises. He explains how they pulled it off in detail in the video below:

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You can read all about Phil's exploits in Tornados, and in the Royal Air Force in general, in his book Patrolling the Cold War Skies: Reheat Sunset.

As for ADV Tornados, they stopped tearing through the skies in 2012, with the Royal Air Force and the QinetiQ test team being the last to retire them. But the other two variants of the Tornado continue to soldier on for the UK (IDS), Germany (IDS/ECR), Italy (IDS/ECR), and Saudi Arabia (IDS).


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