The Harrier has been retired from Royal Air Force service.
December 15: The Harrier was retired from Royal Air Force service with an event held at RAF Cottesmore in Rutland, its last remaining base.
A planned 16-ship flypast couldn’t be held over the airfield due to poor weather, but was flown over a number of locations across the east of England including Stamford in Lincolnshire, for so long associated with the aircraft during its 41-year tenure of nearby RAF Wittering.
Landing the last Harrier after performing an emotive bow and power climb-out was the Station Commander and Officer Commanding Joint Force Harrier, Group Captain Gary Waterfall. As he pulled into position on the aircraft servicing platform for the last time, the order was made to cut all engines on the 16 aircraft that had just taxied in – the sound of the Pegasus engines winding down making a collective sigh across the airfield.
“It’s been an emotional and poignant day,” said Gp Capt Waterfall. “It’s a fitting retirement for the aircraft after 41 years of history. We’re closing a chapter in military aviation. It’s sad, obviously, but I’m actually feeling happy, as we’ve done what we wanted to do, we’ve got as many people together here as we could who were part of the very rich story of the Harrier. I personally walk away with a sense of pride that I did as much as I could to make sure it goes out in the style it deserves.”
The Harrier squadrons will formally disband in late January and RAF Cottesmore will close officially on March 31, 2011, but the Harriers will remain stored until their future is decided.
For more on this story see the next issue of AirForces Monthly, out early January.