The announcement of the withdrawal of the Harrier came in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) on the 19th October and less than 2 months later the Harrier made its last flight. This iconic and well loved plane would be sorely missed by both aviation enthusiasts and the general public alike. With the Harrier being withdrawn any chance of RAF Cottesmore getting a reprieve from the earlier announced plan to close also died. This was a further blow to the aviaiton enthusiasts as Cottesmore and especially the runway 22 end was the last RAF station to have the old style 3 ft high wooden fencing given unparallel views of the aircraft as they taxied by.
To mark the end of Harrier operations for both the RAF and the Royal Navy a plan was formed to have 16 Harriers in a diamond formation perform flypasts of the RAF bases in the East of England as well as a number of local towns and cities. The practice flights for the two weeks preceding the date was cancelled after the cold snap that hit the UK left RAF Cottesmore under snow and ice for most of that period. The chance of the flypast happening was looking doubtful until December 14th when a break in the cold weather had allowed the runway and taxiways to be cleared and a 16 ship practice was flown.
Come the big day of the 15th and the weather had closed in with only 2 miles of visibility. The 16 Harriers along with a twin seat Harrier T12 acting as both a weather ship (an aircraft used to check the weather conditions for the other aircraft) and a whip (an aircraft used to coordinate the position of the aircraft in the formation) took to the skies but it became apparent very quickly that the conditions wouldn’t allow 16 Harriers to fly in a close formation. The decision was taken to return to Cottesmore in four formations of four Harriers. As each formation arrived they flew down the runway and performed a running break before the four aircrafts went into the hover. With all four over separate landing pads in a cross formation the Harriers slowly lowered themselves down to the runway. As they completed their landing the next four Harriers performed their running break and then landed in the same fashion.
With all sixteen landed Joint Force Harrier Commander Group Captain Gary Waterfall took to the air again in the special camo scheme Harrier to perform a last bow for the assembled crowd before landing for the last time. Along with the other three special tailed Harrier the camo Harrier formed a guard of honour for the pilots. The other Harriers had taxied down to the runway 22 end to allow the public lining the fence to get their last photos. The mixed emotions of the day were clear to see on the pilots faced; some waving and giving thumbs up whilst others looking reflectful as they taxied back for the last time.
With all the Harriers back to the hard standing they shut all their engines down together signalling after 41 years of service the end for the Harrier. A very sad day.
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