The Ulster Aviation Tonka

Since childhood, as an avid reader of the Biggles books by W E Johns and builder of numerous model aircraft kits, I have been fascinated with the amazing progress of aeroplane development ever since the Wright Brothers took to the air on December 1903. Who would have thought back then at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, that one day in the not-too-distant future, humans would be landing a spacecraft, Apollo 11, on the surface of the moon on July 1969?

A seemingly impossible achievement in less than seventy years has been told many times. The story continues, stimulating young and old to discover more about the incredible advances that have taken place in aeronautics in such a short period of time. Fortunately, we are blessed with a multitude of aeroplane museums studded across the UK: IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire, the Farnborough Air Sciences Trust in Hampshire, and RAF Cosford, London, to name but a few. Including one I visited recently on a day trip with my son and family, the marvellous Brooklands Museum in Weybridge. All of which, I’m sure, will satisfy the most dedicated of aeroplane enthusiasts.

However, there is one museum I must introduce the enthusiast to: the Ulster Aviation Society here in Northern Ireland. I am very fortunate to have a good friend, Nick Rogers, who keeps me up to date on the latest developments at the museum. He is one of the many skilled Volunteers who give so much of their time to the hangars where the restoration and maintenance of famous aircraft take place. Displays there include fast jets: Phantom, Buccaneer, Canberra, Sea Hawk and a Vampire. Others of note are a Second World War Spitfire replica and a Wildcat along with a 1911 Ferguson Flyer. If this whets your aviation appetite, take a look at their website where you will find more information on these historic aircraft.

Already a great place to spend a day viewing up close these amazing flying machines, the society recently welcomed a ‘must see’ arrival to the heritage collection. One of the last Tornado Gr.4 fast jet fighters (also warmheartedly known as the ‘Tonka’), many of which saw action in various theatres of war including Bosnia, Kosovo, Serbia, Iraq and Afghanistan, is now at home with the society at the Maze Long Kesh, Lisburn in Northern Ireland.


This particular Tonka was gifted to the museum by their patron Air Vice-Marshal Harv CB, OBE, DFC, born and educated in N. Ireland. The Tornado GR.4 was one of those retired from the service in 2019 at RAF Marham, home of the frontline Tornado Force. As a combat veteran having flown hundreds of operational missions, it was his view, considering all the good work that the society does, it was a gifted opportunity for the UAS to display the Tonka.

For anyone wishing to pay a visit to the UAS museum there is an excellent website that describes its facilities and directions on how to get there.

My thanks to Mark J. Cairns for allowing me to use extracts from the UAS magazine.


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