Today is the retirement of the Harrier from RAF/RN service. They are flying one last mission taking in seven bases associated with the jet.
In the back of a wardrobe in Gateshead I have an 1:72 scale Airfix FRS1 which I bought in ‘82 (I found that difficult to obtain at the time following a rush on such kits during and after the Falklands War) but what really brought home to me how special that jet is was a few years ago at the Sunderland Airshow when my wife and I watched one do something no other jet could do. Oh, there was a low pass by a B-52, an Su-26 did ballet in the sky and a Belgian F-16 pulled off some pretty impressive high-alpha manoeuvres and even whilst the Red Arrows put in a top performance the Harrier (GR7) did something none of those could do. It did nothing. It performed some tricks and then just stopped, pointed at the crowd and hung there in exactly the way several tons of duralumin and precisely vectored fury just ought not to. It bowed to the crowd amidst rapturous applause and then flew off.
It was the effect it had on my wife, specifically her jaw muscles, that made me, seasoned aviation fan that I am, re-appreciate the bird. Oh, the Harrier is long in the tooth and short on legs and ordinance but it is a wonderful thing and one of those machines that just has charisma. Of course it should have been superseded many years ago and of course it only had a starring role in the Falklands because of a short-sighted decision to get rid of the Royal Navy’s CATOBAR capability and of course it’s air-to-air victories in that campaign were as much to do with Argentinian tactical considerations and the all new AIM-9L all-aspect ‘winder and all that but looking at my wife’s face I saw wonder in a way that I had deadened in myself by reading books full of numbers and graphs and playing sims.
I had been planning on posting about this and analysing it in detail (Per Ardua ad Wheelie Bin!). Prosaically there are things I ought to be doing about Christmas and such but constraints of time are not the only reason I will not give my assessment on such matters now. I hope they can sell the Harriers to someone. Though the basic design is old the current RAF/RN jets are quite new. Perhaps India wants them? If so then a deal involving the Ark Royal would be fitting. The alternative I suppose is that they are decommissioned and sold as ornaments or “gate guardians” which would of course mean them sitting still but not in the same way my wife and I once saw one doing nothing.
I also heard on the news today that the hike in airport tax will also come along with fuel surcharges from BA and undoubtedly others. Long haul flights will be especially affected. We used to dream of the skies and soon that is again all we will be able to do about them due to deranged economics, epic mismanagement and misplaced technocratic though technophobic Green idealism (”how much in UN sin tax are we paying again?”) .
Two days from now it will be the 107th anniversary of the first ever controlled, powered flight. Orv and Will must be glad to be dead because all of this would have killed them.
Goodbye Harrier! You will be missed.