Sunday, 30 December 2012

Ghosts Of December Past - Well 2010 At Least

Two years ago this month, 15th December 2010 to be precise, is now firmly etched in the minds of many aviation enthusiasts as one of Britain’s finest aviation achievements made its last flight in British military service.

I suppose we need to thank the previous Government for screwing the economy to such an extent that Defence cuts of such a scale were required, but one of the actions identified from the Strategic Defence and Security Review of May 2010 was that the Harrier fleet was to be scrapped.

It wasn't until October of 2010 that we found out how quickly the axe would fall, with all Harrier operations to cease by the end of the year and a fleet of nearly 80 aircraft to be withdrawn from service.

Like a lot of enthusiasts I intended to get and see the Harriers a few times before they were finally withdrawn, but before I knew it, we were in mid December and I hadn't ventured to Wales, Wittering or Cottesmore.

Despite the many rumours circulating, the planned last day of operations was to be Wednesday the 15th December with a 16 ship of Harriers flying over several locations and RAF Stations before arriving back at Cottesmore and shutting down infront of the gathered press for the final time.

I was fortunate to have an invite for the 15th, but unfortunate that I had a previous non transferable engagement for that day...!!!

At Cottesmore the plan was for a practice of the formation on Monday the 13th with a fall back / reserve day of the 14th. This in theory provided two opportunities to catch the Harriers for one last time, but of course, stupidly I only had one day free, there was no option, I had to gamble on 13th.

For most of my 100 mile journey over to Cottesmore the mist hung low until I got to within about 10 miles of the airfield and then it got even thicker, just my luck. After meeting up with some friends who'd made the journey up from South of London we elected to head off to the 22 threshold end of the airfield. With visibility dropping even further and mist becoming freezing fog, we stayed put in the cars with little prospect of anything taking to the air. Then, just after 11am, five hours after arriving at Cottesmore I received a call off base, probably what I was expecting but not what I wanted to hear, the 16 ship had been cancelled.

That appeared to be it, but as we said our goodbyes the phone rang again, unbelievably the met for late afternoon had changed and there was a slim chance that a short window of reasonable weather would present itself. The plan on base was now to fly the four specially marked jets with a two seat acting as camera ship.


 At just after 2pm the distinct sound of a Harrier winding up could be heard and the rest of that afternoon, well, it provided a little bit of history as we were treated to an hour and half or excellent Harrier action topped off by the most amazing sunset.

Just to complete the story, they did manage to carry out a 16 ship rehearsal the next day but come disbandment day the weather once again closed in and the Harrier crews were restricted to flying fourship formations in the vicinity of Cottesmore only. OK I hadn’t seen 16 Harriers on the Tuesday or Wednesday but my hour and a halves viewing of sunset action with the specially marked jets was simply magical.