Duncan Simpson was invited to RAF Wittering to celebrate forty years of Harrier service with the Royal Air Force…
On 20 May 1969 five Harriers were made ready at Dunsfold for delivery
to Royal Air Force Wittering. The Harrier conversion team (HCT) had
completed their flying at Dunsfold and was ready to deliver the first
aircraft. In the event only four made the flight, the fifth, failing to
produce electric power, remained overnight at Dunsfold.
British aircraft, and indeed a new concept of operations, at arrived in
the RAF after just seven years of design, manufacture and development
by Hawker Siddeley at Kingston and Dunsfold. Six development batch (DB)
aircraft had been built for flight testing and nine Kestrels had taken
part in the Tripartite operational trials; and the United State Marine
Corps had bought the Harrier.
Harrier Fortieth Anniversary
The fortieth anniversary of the formation of the Harrier
Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) was celebrated on 23 July this year.
The remaining members of the HCT - Air Marshal Peter Dodworth, Air
Commodore Richard Profit (and the writer!) - sat down to lunch at
Stamford hosted by Group Captain Ken McCann, Joint Force Harrier (JFH)
Commander supported by Air Chief Marshal Sir John Day, Military Advisor
to BAE Systems who paid the bill. The guests included Sir Peter Squire,
ex Chief of the Air Staff and Commander of No.1 Squadron in the
Falklands, Sir Christopher Moran, Commander in Chief Air Command,
serving officers from the OCU at Wittering and the JFH at Cottesmore,
together with other Officers who had served with the Harrier force over
the past forty years.
On the evening of 23 July a
gala celebration dinner was held in a hangar at Wittering attended by
some five hundred Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Harrier personnel,
again from the past forty years.
A strong tribute was paid to the
Harrier GR9 by Group Captain McCann saying that the Joint Force had
just returned from five years in Afghanistan in support of the NATO led
International Security Assistance Force, amassing over 8,500 sorties
and more than 22,000 flying hours mainly in support of ground troops in
the southern province of Helmand. More than 2,000 close air support
missions were flown. The Group Captain stated that in his professional
opinion the Harrier GR9 was the best close air support fighter
Celebrations continued on 24
July with a Harrier Force Families’ Day and evening hangar party at RAF