HMS Ark Royal, the United Kingdom’s Flagship, facilitated the last ever launch of the iconic Harrier GR9 aircraft from her decks at 0900 on 24 November 2010, approximately 40 nautical miles off the coast of Newcastle.
Joint Force Harrier, based at RAF Cottesmore, will decommission as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). HMS Ark Royal will also decommission under the review.
Together with her Harrier aircraft, HMS Ark Royal has become an iconic emblem of the United Kingdom, able to project power and strike globally; its versatility and flexibility a significant asset. Being able to position the Ship miles off the coast and negotiate over-flight restrictions to deliver force of devastating effect offers considerable capability to the defence of the United Kingdom.
Although significantly enhanced since their most successful and famous combative sorties during the Falklands conflict in 1982, the present variant, the four Ground Attack and Reconnaissance Harrier GR9s, painted an iconic picture on the deck of HMS Ark Royal, admired for the last time by almost 12,000 visitors when the Ship opened her gangways to the general public in Newcastle.
Harrier pilot Lieutenant Commander James Blackmore (35), the last pilot to ever launch a Harrier from the decks of HMS Ark Royal, said:
“This is a truly memorable day. We accept the decision to decommission both the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal; however, of course the final launch will be emotional. I have flown over 90 sorties off the Ship and combat sorties in Afghanistan, and the aircraft’s capability still astounds me. Landing an aircraft on a runway which is not in the same location as where you launched from gives exceptional flexibility.
I remember witnessing a Harrier in the hover when I was just 8 years old, since then I had wanted to do nothing else. I have flown Harriers for over 10 years, the training is complex and challenging but the added challenge and excitement of hovering a Harrier off the port side of HMS Ark Royal before landing vertically is an experience I will miss immensely.
I feel honoured and proud to be the last pilot to ever launch a Harrier jet from HMS Ark Royal.”
Deliberately keen to highlight the very Joint nature of Joint Force Harrier the last jet to recover in HMS Ark Royal was an 800 NAS jet piloted by a Royal Air Force officer, today the last jet to launch was a 1(Fighter) Squadron RAF jet piloted by a Royal Naval officer.
Departing the Ship in one wave of four aircraft, the launch was led by Capt Mike Carty RM followed by: Lt Matt Fooks-Bale RN and Flt Lt Em Rickards before Lt Cdr James Blackmore’s historic final launch.
After the launch, the 4 aircraft conducted a 2 ship fly past, each squadron flying low past the port side of the Ship before conducting a final fighter exercise controlled by 849 NAS’ Seaking Mk7 helicopter, prior to returning to RAF Cottesmore.
Both the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal are due to leave the Service next year. Reflecting on the Harrier and HMS Ark Royal, Captain Jerry Kyd, HMS Ark Royal’s Commanding Officer said:
“As the last Harriers lift off the deck of HMS Ark Royal for the final time it is with a real sense of pride that we remember the fantastic contribution they, and the carriers, have made to UK Defence around the world. The tremendous reception we received in Newcastle last weekend, where Ark Royal was built, reflects the very deep fondness for this iconic warship and her air group. Although we now look back on the significant achievements of the Harrier with immense pride and a tinge of sadness at our loss, we can now look forward to an exciting new chapter of Naval aviation as we continue the training for and procurement of the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister ship will enter service from 2015 and together with their helicopters and the Joint Strike Fighter, they will be a very powerful strategic asset able to project serious power anywhere in the world, delivering 21st Century Carrier Strike capability. Add to this the new Type 45 Destroyers, the forthcoming Type 26 frigate, the Astute class submarines and the Royal Marine Brigade, the United Kingdom will have a balanced Naval Service that remains in the premier league, working for Britain to deter potential threats, defend our global interests and, if necessary, defeat our enemies.”