Visit to RAF Marham, August 2012

    RAF Marham in Norfolk is a very large airfield which has operated military aircraft since 1916. It is currently a RAF Main Operating Base, home to a number of squadrons operating the multi-national Panavia Tornado strike aircraft.

    Marham has generally operated bomber types, from Hendons, through Wellingtons, to B-29s. Valiant and then Victor air-refuelling squadrons made way for Tornadoes in 1982, and these twin seat supersonic swing wing jets have been based here ever since.

    Our visit began with a welcome talk and a review of the base history and current operations. The second line support units are now part of 138 Expeditionary Air Wing (138 EAW) with the ability to deploy wholesale as a fully functioning entity, with minimal reliance on host nation support.

    An informative and comprehensive visit to the Tornado Training School allowed us close-up access to many of the aircraft systems and weapons in use, and the staff here were happy to answer our various questions.

Tornado cockpit in the training school

Exposed systems in the training school

Empty Tornado engine bay

    Next up was a trip across to one of the HAS (Hardened Aircraft Shelter) sites, where some of the active squadrons operate from. The HAS site was constructed in the early 1980's as part of a NATO wide programme to protect parked aircraft from suffering damage during Warsaw Pact bombing raids. Today the HASes are still utilised, but more out of environmental considerations, to keep the aircraft, crews and equipment out of the harsh Norfolk winter weather conditions.

Tornado GR4 ZD850 of 617 Sqn inside a Hardened Aircraft Shelter

617 Sqn Dambusters markings

Mission markings:
Paveway IV, Brimstone, Enhanced Paveway II, Storm Shadow

   The Weapons Loading Training unit is where the Armourers practice loading and unloading the different types of weapons that the Tornado can carry. They utilise an old Tornado ADV prototype airframe fitted with under-wing pylons for some of this practice, however they often need to use a fully up-to-date aircraft to realistically train, so borrow active aircraft from the front line squadrons on a rotating basis. In addition, a purpose built fuselage section is utilised for some training.

Tornado ADV prototype in training use

Weapons Load Trainer Tornado GR4

Purpose built trainer 'ZA305'

   The base has a few preserved aircraft, both at the main gate, and outside other buildings, and our visit gave us the rare opportunity to view and photograph some of these too.

A Victor tanker is displayed outside SHQ

A Tornado is dramatically mounted at the main gate

A Canberra is preserved on base

   Our thanks go to the CRO who made this visit possible, and all the staff involved in hosting us.