Designed and built as a collaborative project between the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, and originally named the Multi-Role Combat Aircraft, the prototype Tornado Interdictor Strike aircraft (IDS) first flew in August 1974. The aircraft has variable geometry wings and is powered by two Turbo-Union RB199-34R turbofans, with a maximum speed of 1452 mph and a service ceiling of 50000 feet. The Air Defence Variant (ADV) version of the Tornado is optimised for long-range interception with radar and infra-red guided air-to-air missiles and one internally mounted 27mm Mauser cannon.
The first of 229 Tornado GR.1 strike aircraft was delivered to the Royal Air Force in 1981 and the first squadron equipped with the aircraft became operational in 1982. The GR.1 is capable of carrying a wide range of armaments, including conventional and anti-airfield bombs, laser-guided bombs, air-to-ground rockets and anti-radar missiles. During the 1991 Gulf War, the Tornado GR.1 force flew 1500 operational sorties mainly against airfields, air defence sites and bridges. Six aircraft were lost in low-level missions. Intended as a mid-life update of the Tornado GR.1 fleet, deliveries of the Tornado GR.4 began in October 1997. While the performance of the aircraft is similar, overall effectiveness is enhanced by a forward–looking infra-red system, a wide-angle head-up display, night vision goggles, new defensive systems and avionics and provision for enhanced anti-armour, stand-off attack and laser designation weapons.
Tornado XZ631, which arrived at Elvington on 22 March 2005, first flew on 24 November 1978 as pre-series aircraft P15 and was the prototype for the conversion work to GR.4 standard carried out by British Aerospace at Warton, Lancashire. The Yorkshire Air Museum is the first independent museum in the United Kingdom to acquire a Tornado, and is the first museum in the country to display the current front-line GR.4 version.