The end of 2010 saw the retirement of a long serving aircraft for the RAF as part of the restructuring of the armed forces under the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). The aircraft of course was the Harrier. With the arrival of a new year another long serving RAF aircraft is retired. The Dominie T1 flew its last operational flight on Thursday 20th January 2011 from RAF Cranwell.
Both the Harrier and Dominie were British designed aircraft (although the Harrier that was retired from the RAF in December 2010 was redeveloped by McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace) and leave only the closely related HS-125 operated by Number 32(TR) Squadron for VIP transport and the Hawk T1 trainer in the RAF inventory that was designed by Hawker Siddeley.
Both the Harrier and Dominie had their fate sealed by the SDSR but for different reasons. Whilst it was decided to retired the Harrier it was the knock on effect of the withdrawal of the Nimrod MR2 / R1 (another aircraft designed Hawker Siddeley), the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4 and the reduction in the size of the Tornado GR4 fleet that saw the Dominie retire two years earlier than its Out of Service Date (OSD).
The Dominie’s role with Number 55(R) Squadron RAF has been to train WSOs (Weapons Systems Officers) and WSOps (Weapons Systems Operators). These are the people who would have crewed the Nimrod R1, MR2, MRA4 and currently are the rear seat air crew on the Tornado GR4. The RAF has ceased training anymore people for these roles and it is likely to be years before it starts again under the Military Flying Training System (MFTS) programme.
Part of the training program on the Dominie includes low level radar and low level navigation, usually as part of a high-low-high flight profile. One of the training areas is the Low Fly Area 7 in Wales where the Dominie could be seen navigating the tight turns of the valleys.
The final operational flight on Thursday 20th January 2011 took off from RAF Cranwell as a six ship comprising of XS737 / K, XS730 / H, XS728 / E, XS712 / A, XS731 / J and XS739 / F. XS727 / D and XS709 / M acting as (unneeded) air spares. After completing their flypasts they performed a six ship formation pass over RAF Cranwell North to South and then East to West before returning to perform a break. Once circuit and then landing and lining up on the taxiway to return to the pan although.
As the Dominie all lined up the final aircraft, XS739 / F, with 55(R) Sqn OC onboard looped past the parked Dominies to stop in front of them. Like the Harrier that went before them all the aircrafts turned off their engines together and the Dominie’s long service to the RAF was at an end.