Victor Tanker with Tornado and Buccaneer

RAF Tornado Aircraft Losses

Statement on the Loss of RAF Tornado Aircraft in Combat During the Conduct of Air Operations against Iraq.

A total of six Tornado GR1 aircraft were lost in combat during the conduct of air operations against Iraq. In each case, the aircraft were flying in formation with others. Investigations have now been completed into the circumstances of each of the losses, making the best use of the evidence available. Conclusions on the cause of the loss could be reached in four of the cases, but not for the remaining two. The results of the investigation are set out below.

On the morning of 17 January 1991 Flt Lts J G Peters and A G Nichol took part in an attack on an Iraqi airfield with 1,000lb bombs. On departure from the target the formation encountered Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) fire and received multiple surface-to-air threat warnings. Flt Lts Peters and Nichol manoeuvred, apparently successfully, against a missile threat warning, but soon afterwards their aircraft was hit by a missile from a previously unidentified military installation. The crew continued to fly the aircraft for over three minutes before being forced to eject with fuel leaking from the right wing, and flames on the side of the fuselage. The ejections were successful, although both crew members suffered minor injuries. The crew were both captured and held as prisoners of war (POWs) until the cessation of hostilities. The wreckage of the aircraft was found and inspected by the investigating team. Fragments of metal were extracted from the aircraft wreckage and analysed. The investigating team concluded that the aircraft was hit by a surface-to-air missile while leaving the target area. The crew were then faced with a series of problems culminating in loss of control of the aircraft at which point they ejected successfully.

On 19 January 1991 Flt Lts D J Waddington and R J Stewart took part in a night attack against an airfield in SW Iraq with 1,000lb bombs. The formation flew into Iraq at low-level. Shortly before commencement of the loft delivery the formation came under fire from surface-to-air missiles. Flt Lt Waddington attempted to take evasive action, but a missile detonated to the front right hand side of the aircraft. The pilot became unconscious and the navigator initiated command ejection while the aircraft was at high speed. Both pilot and navigator received injuries during the ejection and parachute landing. They were captured and held as POWs until cessation of hostilities. The wreckage of their aircraft was found and briefly inspected by the investigating team; the Accident Data Recorder was recovered for analysis. The investigating team concluded that the aircraft was shot down by a surface-to-air missile during the run-in for a loft attack.

During the early hours of 24 January 1991 Fg Off S J Burgess and Sqn Ldr R Ankerson flew on a mission to attack an airfield in SW Iraq with 1,000lb bombs from level flight at medium altitude. Shortly after having released their weapon load as planned there was a large explosion behind the aircraft and the crew thought they had been hit by a surface-to-air missile. They turned towards the Saudi border with flames spreading along the aircraft wings. The aircraft became difficult to control and the crew prepared for ejection, which they did once control was finally lost. The crew suffered very minor injuries as a result of the ejection and descent. They were both captured and held in captivity until the cessation of hostilities. The wreckage of the aircraft was found and briefly inspected by the investigating team; the Accident Data Recorder was recovered for analysis. Shrapnel fragments recovered from the aircraft wreckage were analysed and indicate conclusively that premature detonation of one or more of the 1,000lb bombs had occurred, damaging the aircraft to such an extent that the crew had no option but to eject.

On 14 February 1991 Flt Lts R J S G Clark and S M Hicks flew on a daylight medium-level mission as part of a formation of Tornadoes and laser designator Buccaneers to attack an airfield in central Iraq with Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs). Just prior to weapon delivery the crew received radar warnings but with only seconds to weapons release, continued with the attack. Only one of the two LGBs was released, with the other remaining hung-up. Shortly after, the Buccaneer crew reported a visual sighting of two SAMs fired from a site to the North of the target. Flt Lts Clark and Hicks attempted to take evasive action and to jettison external stores. Despite the crew's actions a missile exploded beside the aircraft, rupturing a canopy beside the pilot's head and smashing the majority of front cockpit instruments. Flt Lt Clark could not contact his navigator. Immediately after, there was another explosion from a second missile. Despite the extensive damage, including both wings being peppered with holes and no apparent control over the engines, the pilot still had limited control and flew the aircraft for a further two or so minutes before initiating command ejection when he found he could control the aircraft no longer. The pilot sustained a minor injury to his left leg as a result of ejection and descent. Flt Lt Hicks was found to be dead. Flt Lt Clark was subsequently captured and remained as a POW until cessation of hostilities. The crash site was located outside the area of Iraq later occupied by coalition forces and was inaccessible to the investigating team. But on the basis of Flt Lt Clark's report and interviews with other members of the formation, the investigating team were able to conclude that the aircraft was lost as a result of an enemy SAM attack which killed the navigator and severely damaged the aircraft, causing the pilot to eject.

On the evening of 17 January 1991 Wg Cdr T N C Elsdon and Flt Lt R M Collier took part in a JP233 mission against an Iraqi airfield. The formation planned to attack the target on a westerly heading before turning to the North. After a further 10 miles the formation were to turn to the East and leave the area. As they approached the Iraqi border at low level, the formation encountered AAA fire which became progressively more intense towards the target. All four aircraft delivered their weapons and turned onto the northerly heading. As the aircraft turned on to the next, easterly, track a fireball was seen by one of the crews. The leader instigated a radio check in, but received no reply from Wg Cdr Elsdon or Flt Lt Collier. It was subsequently concluded that their aircraft had been seen to hit the ground while leaving the target area. Both aircrew were killed in the crash.

On 22 January 1991 Sqn Ldrs G K S Lennox and K P Weeks led the first of two formations delivering 1,000lb bombs in a night attack on an Air Defence site in western Iraq. The weather was good with excellent visibility, and they carried out a successful attack despite heavy AAA fire. Approximately five seconds later the leader of the following formation saw a fireball erupt in the distance. Closer investigation revealed a series of fires on a hillside to the right of track where the fireball had been. As Sqn Ldrs Lennox and Weeks failed to check in after the attack, the leader realised that this fire trail was probably caused by their aircraft crashing. Both aircrew were killed in the crash.

The crash sites in these last two cases were located outside the area of Iraq later occupied by coalition forces and as such were inaccessible to the investigating team; the investigations were therefore confined to interviews with other members of the formation. The investigating team considered all possible factors in attempting to establish the reason for these two losses. There were several potential causes, including aircraft malfunction, hostile action, aircrew reaction and aircraft handling, but the lack of any firm evidence makes it impossible to reach a positive conclusion, and in each case the cause must remain undetermined.

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