I remember Tornados from nine squadron roaring over at tree top height, heading for the bombing ranges at cape Wrath. I remember the navigators gawping at me as I crouched down in the street terrified by the noise. The ground rumbled, the vibrations ripped right through me, the ground would shake, and I remember crouching down behind my granddad’s neighbours gate and just crying my eyes out of sheer fear. If you’ve never been that close to a fighter-bomber ripping through the sky 250ft over your head you’ll never understand. Nothing terrified me more than the Tornados, every time it felt like the sky was crashing down on me, if the ground had ripped open and swallowed me I wouldn’t have been surprised. Even when the Americans flew over they flew higher and at a more sedate pace, a pair of F-15s in formation, the odd F-111 from Lakenheath or Fairford, almost regal. The Tornados always flew right down on the deck at full throttle, nearly at the speed of sound so that you’d hear them maybe only a second before they flew over shaking every house in the village.
Later when I was in the air cadets we’d go to airshows and a Tornado would streak in at the speed of sound, showing off to the crowd, but it’d be half a mile away so that if anything went wrong it’d come down over the airfield and not over the crowd and it was never the same. By that time I would go and sit on the hill every thursday when I was at my grandparents and wait for them. I’d stand on the hill arms out stretched in sheer joy as they zipped over me not more than 50ft above my head and the crews would wave to me and waggle their wings. All day they’d come, two at a time, hugging the ground, popping up over the hills and diving down into the glens, pulling sharp snapping turns with their wings swept right back. Later I found out that this is what we call the “Thursday War” when the Navy and the RAF after a week of maintenance and training go on exercise and put it all into practice.