The final UK Harrier sortie was flown on December 15, ending 41 years of Harrier operations with the RAF and Royal Navy.
The final flight was conducted by 16 GR.9 and T.12 Harriers of the RAF’s 1 Squadron and the RN’s 800NAS, with flypasts of several bases before returning to Cottesmore for the last time.
The Harrier retirement was announced in the Cameron coalition government’s October Strategic Defence and Security Review as part of wide ranging cuts to the British armed services, which also included the immediate retirement of the HMS Ark Royal and the imminent retirement of the last Invincible class carrier, HMS Illustrious. The land based strike mission will be assumed by the Panavia Tornado GR.4.
The Royal Navy’s last Sea Harrier FA.2s were retired in 2006, with the GR.9s forming Joint Force Harrier (JFH) with RAF and RN crews operating from land bases and the carriers. Over their service lives, Harrier and Sea Harrier crews have acquitted themselves with distinction in the Falklands War, Bosnia, Iraq and most recently, Afghanistan.
“The Harrier is a true icon and stands testament to the innovation and excellence of British design and engineering, and the skill and courage of our airmen,” Air Officer Commanding No. 1 Group, Air Vice Marshal, Greg Bagwell, said.
“It has had a truly distinguished service with both the RAF and the Royal Navy, from the South Atlantic to the skies over Afghanistan. It now takes its place in history as one of aviation’s greats.”
The retirement brings to an end UK V/STOL operations which are now unlikely to be replaced following the SDSR recommendation to order the more conventional naval F-35C JSF’s instead of the STOVL F-35Bs which the UK had previously committed to.