Photo Gallery: RAF Marham welcomes back the last Tornados from operations over Libya

Family and colleagues greet members of IX Squadron as they arrive home.

With a thundering roar the last seven Tornados to leave Italy after flying missions over Libya arrived back on home soil in Norfolk this morning.

The end of the United Nations operation to support rebel forces with air cover means the front line crews from RAF Marham are back on base and preparing for a couple of weeks leave.

Station Commander Gp Capt 'Rocky' Rochelle was waiting alongside the runway as the formation of seven split low over Marham before coming into land to be greeted by family and colleagues from IX Sqn.

Two of the jets had a fast turnaround and headed off to Lossiemouth in Scotland where they are stationed, but for the Marham crews it was a welcome homecoming.


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'It was a fantastic last mission for Operation Unified Protector and Ellamy. It's a homecoming for the guys who worked extremely hard,' said Gp Capt Rochelle.

'They have been working all the hours that God sends to makes sure they get over the right area all the time and Libya is a massive country, a huge geographic area,' he added.

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The initial Storm Shadow Operation was launched from Marham with crews flying over to Libya in the longest sorties launched from the base since the second world war.

Gp Capt Rochelle said it was the speed of the RAF's ability to commit to such a mission, and the professionalism with which it had been conducted, which made him 'hugely proud' of everyone involved.

'We were asked to turn from our normal training cycle and supporting of Herrick in Afghanistan to turn on a sixpence and turn around and point in the direction of Libya and launch Storm Shadow operations and we did that in a 48-hour turnaround process. Being able to watch those first eight aircraft get airborne and head south for a 3,000 mile round trip - that's probably got to be a highlight,' he said.

Gp Capt Rochelle travelled to the Italian base of Gioia del Colle two or three times to 'see the guys face to face' but was mostly back at Marham running the show in terms of Storm Shadow missions and looking after Operation Herrick.

Navigator Flt Lt Vicki Neighbour, the only female member of IX squadron, returned to Marham yesterday having completed her first operational tour.

'It's a really good introduction as a first tour because its we did a lot of weapons work which is what we trained for,' she said.

Flt Lt Neighbour said she was 'glad to be home' and was planning to head to Scotland to see her baby nephew while she took some leave.

Flt Lt Charlie Thompson has already been back on base for a few weeks as he was allowed to leave Italy and return for his wedding at Ely Cathedral on October 14.

'The RAF allowed one or two of the guys to come over as well. It was really nice,' he said

He was part of operations over Libya for two months and flew 100 hours during that time.

Along with other members of IX Sqn, Flt Lt Thompson was waiting for the final few to return to Marham.

Wng Cmmdr Andy Turk said he was a 'little overwhelmed' at his return to base where two of his sons, dressed appropriately in flying suits, were excited to greet him.

'I feel very proud and it has been a real adventure,' he said.

He was full of praise for the Tornado jets which, despite approaching 30 years of age, were still inspiring to fly and a potent force.

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