It is always interesting to see what surplus military hardware ends up on the private market. While browsing aircraft classified ads I came across this mint condition, swing-wing Tornado F2A fighter-interceptor for sale. I have never seen one of these beauties on the market, so I had to contact the seller to get the low-down.
The exact Tornado F2A for sale pictured while still flying for the Royal Air Force (image credit Steve Kilvington).
First off, a little background. Generally speaking, the Panavia Tornado was built in three primary variants. The IDS model was optimized for interdiction and strike. the ADV model is an air defense variant filling the role of a medium-range interceptor-fighter. The third variant is the ECR which fills the suppression of enemy air defenses role primarily.
The aircraft for sale is a unique version of the ADV fighter-interceptor variant, called the F2A. This designation denotes that it has the primary configuration of the F2 but it is a unique testbed aircraft.
A Tornado ADV bristling with weaponry and external fuel tanks.
Operational Tornado ADVs would carry four Skyflash or AIM-120 AMRAAM beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and four AIM-9 Sidewinders or AIM-132 ASRAAM short-range air-to-air missiles, as well as a 27mm cannon with 180 rounds. External tanks were also carried on their rotating wing pylons.
The ADV variant of the Tornado was introduced into service in 1985 and saw service with Italy, Saudi Arabia and the UK. A total of 218 examples were built. Although the IDS and ECR variant remain in service with multiple air arms, the Royal Air Force retired the final operational examples of the ADV variant in 2011, with the Eurofighter Typhoon taking over their air defense role.
The Tornado F2A for sale with its long snout that could house the AI.24 Foxhunter radar, although this particular aircraft was also used to test the Sea Harrier’s Blue Vixen radar.
Although the Tornado was not known to be highly competitive as a close-in fighter, it had a big radar aperture and long-legs, and it could dash at supersonic speeds fairly efficiently due to its swing-wing design. In all, the jet for sale is a serious piece of military hardware that has a top-speed potential of mach 2.2 and can pull 7.5Gs.
Because this particular jet flew as a testbed for a variety of sub-systems and Tornado upgrades, it has very low hours and has been babied its whole life. In fact, the jet never even clocked up 1,000 flight hours. Metaphorically, it’s like a used car with 10,000 miles on it.
The F2A’s unique cockpit configuration full of multi-function displays
Here is the listing description for the Tornado being offered:
“Ex Royal Air Force Panavia Tornado F2A ZD902 ADV for sale. The only F2A variant Tornado aircraft in existence. This is a rare ”T-Bird” Twin Stick variant of the Tornado with full flying controls in both the front and rear cockpits. Airframe hours are a ridiculously low 935 hrs. Fitted with RB199 Mk103 afterburning turbofan engines, this former Royal Aircraft Establishment Trial Aircraft was used for Sea Harrier FA2 radar trials and for avionics research and evaluation. The cockpit is one of a kind modified with MFD screens and a prototype holographic Head Up Display.
This Air Defense Variant, known as TIARA (Tornado Integrated Avionics Research Aircraft) was built in 1984 and was last flown in November 2011. She comes complete with MOD F700 as well as a detailed print out log of all the flights ever flown including landing, take-off, rollers and arrested landings she ever performed.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The aircraft was fully assembled on 7th December 2015 prior to us dismantling and extracting it for road haulage. The photos showing the assembled aircraft were taken the day prior to disassembly. The aircraft was fully fueled and a defuel was conducted on the 3rd of November 2015 when external power was last applied. All fuel pumps were run during the defuel process. Internal battery electrical power was last applied on the 7th of December 2015 as part of the dismantling process and cockpit lighting systems were tested at this time.
The aircraft is now in storage in a heated hangar as per the photo below. The aircraft was hydraulically sound prior to being dismantled with accumulators charged. This should give an idea of how intact and complete this aircraft is, truly an incredibly rare opportunity to own one of our most exciting aircraft to date!”
The people over at Jet Art Aviation who have the Tornado F2A listing are obviously passionate about military aviation. Managing Director Chris Wilson was more than happy to give Foxtrot Alpha the gouge on this incredible machine.
The first thing I wanted to ask was if this jet could ever fly in private hands; the answer was pretty clearly a big yes, although for legal purposes Jet Art Aviation had to clarify that they are technically not selling it as flying aircraft. Here is how our exchange went:
Foxtrot Alpha: Do you envision this aircraft to be flown again? In other words, could an adversary support contractor buy this aircraft and fly it again? What about a private citizen?
Chris Wilson: For legal and insurance purposes the aircraft is sold as a museum/display exhibit. However, hypothetically the aircraft is in such good condition and so very complete that if a buyer did choose to purchase the aircraft and return to flight at a later date at their own risk, I can’t foresee anything that would stop that from happening.
The aircraft is very complete and theoretically could be rebuilt and ground run within a small time frame. The aircraft is being sold as a piece of ex surplus equipment in ‘ex works’ condition, sold ‘as is’ with no airworthy guarantee written, intended or implied.We can sell to both companies and private buyers. To export out of the UK a UK government export licence would need to be processed and approved so friendly countries only need apply and any potential buyer would be vetted needing to provide an end user undertaking.
We have shipped similar ex-military aircraft such as Harriers to Canada, New Zealand and Greece, and a F-104 Starfighter to Taiwan in the past. The buyer would need to ensure they had any necessary permits or licences in place to ensure they complied with the laws and import regulations in their own country.The weapons systems have been removed.”
FA: How much would you expect to get for something like from a qualified buyer?
CW: We are inviting interested parties to make offers. It is incredibly difficult to value something like this with it being such a unique item. Nothing like this has been on sale before and it’s a real rarity. Original cost new was £30 million GBP ($44 million USD) in the 1980s so the final sale price today will be a tiny percentage of that price. Whoever buys the aircraft will be getting a heck of a lot of aeroplane for their money.
FA: Can you give us a little more background on this particular jet beyond just the listing?
CW: December saw an exciting new arrival at Yorkshire based Jet Art Aviation in the form of Panavia Tornado ZD902. The 1984 built aircraft was one of the first ADV’s to enter service with the RAF and was one of only 18 F2 variant built. ZD902 initially served with 229 OCU at Coningsby spending the first three years of her life training aircrew for what at the time was the RAF’s state of the art new fast jet MACH 2.2 swing wing interceptor.
In 1988 the aircraft was issued to Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough and was converted at RAF St Athan to F2A specification, an upgrade conceived to bring early F2 airframes to F3 standard but retaining the RB.199 103 engines.
By a twist of fate ZD902 ended up being the only aircraft to be converted as the majority of the remaining F2s ended up becoming donor aircraft after a contractor drilling incident in essence wrote off the fuselages of 16 F3s. As such this aircraft is the only F2A in existence.ZD902 became a trials aircraft for the Defence Research Agency and was christened TIARA (Tornado Integrated Avionics Research aircraft). Trials she conducted included Blue Vixen radar trials for Sea Harrier FA2, Eurofighter heads up display work, surrogate remote controlled UAV trials and she flew in support of Meteor missile trials.
During her career this aircraft had the privilege of being the last test aircraft to be flown out of RAF Farnborough in 1994, this officially brought to an end 90 years of military test flying at the historic airfield.Later ZD902 operated from MoD Boscombe Down, the aircraft ended up being one of the ‘last of the few’ Tornado ADVs with her last flight occurring 30/11/2011, over six months after the last operational RAF Tornado F3 Squadrons stood down and retired the type from service. ZD902 ended up being the longest serving ADV variant of the Tornado.
As the majority of RAF tornado F3s have now been reduced to spares for the aging Tornado GR4 fleet, this example is now somewhat of a rarity and an endangered species as far as aircraft preservation is concerned. In all seriousness this aircraft has ended up being the last complete (engines fitted and systems installed) Tornado ADV and one of only a handful of jets to survive.The aircraft is in incredible condition having led a very pampered life and totaling only 935 flying hours. By comparison, current in-service Tornado GR4 aircraft are pushing 6,000 hrs. The aircraft is also complete with engines installed and all fuel, hydraulic and electrical systems sound.
The aircraft was dismantled for road haulage week beginning 7th December. The Jet Art engineers applied electrical power during the dismantling process and the cockpits powered up illuminating like a Christmas tree. The aircraft was also fully fueled requiring a de-fuel and drain before the dismantling process could be carried out. By the 11th of December she had been professional dismantled, moved by road and placed into heated hangar storage at the former RAF base in Yorkshire. Jet Art now has the aircraft for sale as one very rare acquisition.
FA: How did your company end up selling surplus aircraft like this and is there anything exciting in the future that you expect to be selling?
CW: I am an ex-RAF aircraft engineer who graduated from my mechanics course top of my class. My time in the RAF included 2 years as ground crew for the Red Arrows Aerobatics Team, and the rest of my service career spent working on Tornado F3s. I now find myself in the unusual position of selling a fighter jet rather than fixing one.Jet Art started ten years ago after I left the Royal Air Force and experimented with selling small collectibles and making display items and furniture from aircraft structure and parts. I started as a one-man enterprise, but the business evolved to become a husband and wife venture, then expanded again to a small but skilled UK Limited company now employing nine people and offering a range of aircraft related services. The business steadily grew and we’re now a specialist supplier of ex-military aircraft for collectors and museum clients. We also supply items such as engines, ejection seats and cockpit sections.
We are currently working on a Harrier GR3 Jump jet that is complete with engine and has some very interesting history having been used in the Falklands and also in Germany during the Cold war. Interestingly, the pilot’s name on the side of the Harrier is an ex USMC exchange pilot - a Capt. Ching who last flew the aircraft in 1991. That aircraft is currently being repainted in our workshop and is also for sale to the general public.
See? You can buy a swing-wing Tornado fighter-interceptor that is practically in new condition for probably close to the price of a very old Learjet. If nothing else, it sure beats the hell out of pretty much anything else flying in private hands, and especially anything that has an origin in the western hemisphere. What’s even better is that it actually has a useful range and those signature Tornado thrust reversers for landing at shorter fields.
So come on, piss off the population surrounding an airfield near you and buy this wonderful wedge-shaped flying machine!