The last few remaining Harriers based at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire have left today.
December 10: The last few remaining Harriers based at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire left today for nearby RAF Cottesmore in Rutland, bringing to an end 41 years of vertical landing operations at the base.
Yesterday the final sorties were flown by 4(R) Squadron, the Operational Conversion Unit for the Harrier, with Sqn Ldr Duncan Mason performing a final bow to the station before landing the late afternoon sun. Wing Commander Simon Jessett, Officer Commanding 4(R) Squadron, commented on the decision to retire the Harrier: “Intellectually we were prepared for it, but it was still a shock. We know the decision went to the wire, but it’s a sense of bereavement. I’ve been in the air force 20 years, 16 of those flying Harriers.”
Eight Long Course students were affected when the decision was announced on October 20. “On the day, it was them I felt most for,” said Wg Cdr Jessett. “They were suspended immediately. The air force guys have all gone to other aircraft, but the navy guys still don’t know what they will do next.” There were four pilots from each air arm on the course. The same is for the instructors; the air force ones have been posted to other aircraft or staff jobs, but the navy pilots are still in limbo.
“We’ve effectively returned to being an Army co-operation squadron again,” added Wg Cdr Jessett. “We’ve been supporting 3 Commando Brigade with their pre-Afghanistan training offering close air support.” The last week has seen practice flights for the planned 16-ship flypast due to happen on December 15 at RAF Cottesmore.
The squadron will officially disband at RAF Cottesmore on January 28, the future of the famous number plate unknown. “We’d like to see it return on Joint Strike Fighter,” noted Wg Cdr Jessett, although he’d not be unhappy to see it as a Typhoon or Tornado unit. As for Wittering itself, it will remain open as a flying station for the foreseeable future as a reserve landing ground for visitors and flying training requirements.