WATCHING the last flypast of Tornado bombers from RAF Valley brought back memories of the first one, which was a damp squib without an aircraft to be seen in the sky.

I should know, I was the RAF press officer who made the detailed arrangements for the British press to attend.

The flypast was to celebrate the opening of the Tri-national Tornado Training Establishment (TTTE) at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland. The Tornado bomber was a joint venture for the RAF, German and Italian air forces and the German naval air arm. Cottesmore’s role was to train the aircrews for the new aircraft.

TTTE’s opening on a January day in the early 1980s was to be attended by very, very important air force personnel, the top commanders of the forces. The Germans and Italians brought their own press parties.

Aircraft from each of the forces had been arranged for a photo-shoot, and a white tape set up beyond which the press shouldn’t venture. Those were the rules, and they were here to be obeyed absolutely.

As a press officer I knew the British press, they were our normal sparring partners, the Germans were fairly affable, but the Italians were voluble and an epic nightmare to control. Italian cameramen ignored all instructions and did just what they wanted, at high volume with much gesticulation.

However in one instance, the Italians behaved impeccably not stepping one inch beyond the white tape, because on the other side were two hefty RAF policemen, each with a large and hungry looking dog eager to have a photographer for lunch. Not one cameraman stepped past the tape.

An RAF band was to play the three national anthems immediately before the flypast, the formation consisting of aircraft from each of the forces. However there was a hiccup: the fly past turned out to be just one aircraft, which was heard but not seen. Fog had descended down to the top of the nearest hanger.

Flying a number of aircraft in close formation at low level in such visibility, was clearly impossible. So the flypast was restricted to one aircraft which was above the base of the fog. We just listened to the roar of the Tornado’s engines, after burners switched, on deafening us all. The Italian press thought it was a huge joke, the German’s didn’t show much emotion, and the British were just phlegmatic. The senior officers adopted rictus grins and tried to pass the whole debacle off as just a bad show.

I was so glad my part in the arrangements had been limited and it wasn’t me who selected the date for the opening. Someone clearly had not realised the likelihood of low visibility at the time of year was quite high, it would have been much better in the summer. Perhaps it was the result of a simple clerical error, someone somewhere typing Jan instead of Jun, but I’ll never know.