The retirement flypasts by Joint Force Harrier earlier this week marked the end of an era of V/STOL flight in the RAF that has lasted 40 years, and 50 years since the first flight of the revolutionary Hawker P1127. But it was perhaps the most high profile aircraft of a number which have been retired over the last five years that have long been a feature of UK airshows. A look back at the archives over the last five years reveal a number of iconic RAF fast jets and other important combat types that have disappeared as the RAF modernises. These losses are perhaps inevitable as technology allows the RAF to replace it’s diverse fleet with fewer types and more unmanned systems, but many are sorely missed by enthusiasts at airshows. Flightline UK takes a look at many types that have appeared at displays in the last five years that won’t be a feature of the 2011 season!
2006 saw the retirement of the RAF’s last few Canberra PR9 aircraft. Like many RAF types the aircraft was active on operations right up to it’s retirement in July 2006. For it’s final few months of operations, the aircraft was presented on the display circuit by 39 Squadron flown by Sqn Ldr Terry Cairns with a very spirited routine at Waddington and RIAT that year.
Next to disappear was the SEPECAT Jaguar GR3 and T4. The aircraft made it’s final year of displays in 2005 in 41 Squadron colours after the disbandment of 16(R) Squadron. The last display was flown by Flt Lt Derek Sington and the display aircraft sported some colourful artwork on the tail continuing a tradition within the Jaguar community that had started with the stunning “Black Cat” flown by 16 Squadron in the early 1990s. The Jaguar eventually retired in 2007 when the final squadron, No 6 Squadron, disbanded at RAF Coningsby in May. Later that year in early July, the Jaguar made it’s final flying display appearance at Waddington show with a QinetiQ operated example managed a few flypasts under the low cloud!
The Nimrod MR2 was always an impressive performer at airshows. It made it’s final appearance as a display item in 2004, but made several static appearances and the odd flypast right up to it’s retirement at the beginning of 2010. These flypasts included an emotional flypast at RAF Leuchars Airshow 2006 in the aftermath of the Nimrod explosion in Afghanistan with the loss of it’s crew in September 2006. It’s replacement, the Nimrod MRA4 was cancelled in the Defence Review in October which meant the last maritime patrol Nimrod made it’s final airshow appearance at the Jersey IAD in September 2010! It was a sad end to one of the most famous RAF types of recent times.
The Harrier is the most recent retirement after the announcement in the Defence Review in October 2010. A full feature on the Harrier can be found HERE. The speed of the Harrier drawdown has been unbelievably rapid with the final flights taking place in December 15th 2010. 2010 has seen the Harriers return to the airshow circuit with a role demonstration flown by Flt Lt Steve Kenworthy at a select number of events. The Harrier had previously been on the display circuit up to the end of the 2006 season when the increase in operations in Afghanistan meant the Harrier would not be flown at displays between 2007 and 2009. Before 2007, Harrier displays has been provided by 20(R) Squadron but they were disbanded in early 2010 and the OCU was passed to the IV(R) numberplate for the final year of operations.
The Tornado F3 will disappear from UK skies in March 2011 with the disbandment of 111(F) Squadron at RAF Leuchars and replacement by 6 Squadron’s Typhoon FGR4 aircraft. 2005 marked the final year of the Tornado F3 solo display, but the annual Leuchars Airshow kept the Tornado F3 part of flying displays upto the end of the 2010 display season which also saw an F3 take an integral part in RIAT’s Battle of Britain Anniversary flypast. The Tornado F3 was also an important part of the RAF Role Demonstration Team that made such an impact during the 2007 and 2008 display season and is now sorely missed.
During 2005-2010, the RAF has continued to display the Typhoon, Hawk, Tucano and Tutor (though the Tucano missed the 2009 display season following a training accident.) The Tornado GR4 has also been a constant in the display circuit bar the 2009 season either as a solo display upto 2006, the RAF Role Demo Tean in 2007 and 2008 or in it’s own Role Demo Team in 2010.
The RAF’s contribution to the 2011 display season has yet to be confirmed apart from the Red Arrows, Falcons and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. It’s likely the consequences of the Defence Review will have some affect on the RAF’s solo displays and role demo teams as the RAF begins to shrink; full details will be confirmed in the New Year.