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RAF Wittering Heritage Centre Harriers

RAF Wittering has a special place for me as it was my Wing HQ from my days in the Air Training Corps, when it was still called that. At the time I was doing various things there, it was home to the Harrier. From 1968 Wittering was to house a large portion of the Harrier Force through its many transitions and tasks.

 

In 1982 during the Falklands Conflict six Harrier GR3s from RAF Wittering were aboard SS Atlantic Conveyer and later HMS Hermes. One of Wittering’s pilots Squadron Leader Bob Iveson, who I have in fact met, was serving with 1 (F) Squadron when he was shot down over Goose Green. He thankfully survived, evading capture and was rescued by helicopter.


RAF Wittering Harrier GR7

2010 was a bad year, as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review, it was decided that the entire Harrier fleet was to be withdrawn from service. And so, the Harrier after 41 years of service in the Royal Air Force, was to be consigned to the history books.

 

RAF Wittering Harrier Sunset

Fortunately there are people who care about our history and heritage and the significance the Harrier had for Britain, not just for the strategical element it brought but for the economic opportunities it would usher in. Enter the RAF Wittering Heritage Centre, a fantastic group of volunteers that are dedicated to the preservation of a number of airframes that have come to be so important to the Harrier’s story.

 

RAF Wittering Harrier

These opportunities are few and far between especially on an active airfield in the space they once operated in. Courtesy of the Centre of Aviation Photography, we had just the chance to photograph these fantastic jets in the afternoon/evening light. So let’s talk a little about the aircraft;

 

P.1127 XV279


P1127 XV279 Harrier RAF Wittering

XV279 was one of six prototype P1127s that  were produced for the RAF in the late 1960s with this particular airframe taking its first flight on the 4th March 1967. The pilot of whom was none other than the famous Bill Bedford, it would fly from Dunsfold and Filton where it was mainly used for testing performance and engine trials. XV279 also found itself the testbed for Head Up Display and Ferranti Inertial Navigation Units and aircraft navigation and attack systems. During the late 1970s XV279 retired from flying duties and was transferred to RAF Wittering as a ground instructional airframe, being mainly used for weapon load training, becoming affectionately known as the ‘plastic pig’.

 

GR3 XV779   

 

XV779 GR3 Harrier RAF Wittering

XV779 was originally built as a GR1 and formed part of the original batch of 60 GR1 variants in 1966. XV779 first flew on 26th March 1970 at the hands of test pilot Squadron Leader Don Riches, with delivery to the RAF on 29th May 1970. In July 1970 XV779 was the first aircraft to enter service with 4 Squadron at RAF Wildenrath in Germany. On 16th December there are reports that the aircraft suffered a belly landing whilst serving at RAF Wildenrath with 3 (F) Squadron. During the early 1970s the aircraft was converted to the GR3 variant, seeing service until the 1980s. In 1988 XV779 became the gate guard at RAF Wittering commonly known as ‘the home of the harrier’.  

 

T4 XZ146

 

T4 XZ146 Harrier RAF Wittering

XZ146 formed part of a batch of four 2-seater aircraft in 1975 with delivery expected in 1976. This airframe was built by Hawker Siddeley Aviation at Kingston and first flew on the 20th January 1976 with delivery being made to 3 (F) Squadron on 8th March at RAF Wildenrath. The original 2-seater training variants were given the designation T2 however this aircraft went through a series of upgrades including a Mk103 engine and Laser Range Marker and Target Seeker (LRMTS) which brought XZ146 up to T4 Standards. XZ146 remained with 20 (R) Squadron to the very end of the GR3/T4 era and on retirement was placed outside the 20 (R) Squadron aircrew building at RAF Wittering.    

 

GR7 ZD318

 

ZD318 GR7 Harrier RAF Wittering

ZD318 was built at Kingston and Dunsfold and originally constructed as a GR5 variant. ZD318, first flown on 30th April 1985 by Mike Snelling, was originally used for trials in IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) and TACAN (Tactical Communication and Navigation). It was also used to trial Gun Pods, Strake evaluation and instrumentation before moving onto acceptance standard handling assessments. Around 1986/7 ZD318 was the first aircraft to fly with the Digital Engine Control System in place of the older Mechanical Fuel Metering Unit. Other trials over this period included software testing, air-to-air communications and Ferranti inertial navigation. During early 1989 ZD318 underwent a conversion to Night Attack standards which inevitably came with various trials and testing. The aircraft remained at BAe Dunsfold but also spent some periods at DRA Boscombe Down for trials and evaluation work.

During the early 90s ZD318 conducted testing with BL755 laser guided bombs, Mantra 155 Rocket Pods, Ski Jump and Vectoring in Forward Flight handling and various avionic trials. At the end of 1993 ZD318 was converted to the GR7 standard and began flying again in  early 1996. By July the aircraft was taking part in Thermal Imaging and Laser Designator trials, followed by Paveway III environmental and handling trials. For the majority of 1998/99 ZD318 was at Boscombe Down however it suffered a ‘departure’ which severely damaged the wing of the aircraft. The wing was replaced with the wing from ZD348 and ZD318 was returned to flight being transferred to BAe Warton in June 2000. On completion of LPC1 (Low Pressure Compressor) trials ZD318 was upgraded to the Mk107 engine to make it a GR7A variant in September 2002. Continuing its testing career ZD318 was engaged in carrying out testing into air-to-air refuelling, Paveway IV bombs and Maverick missile testing until mid-2005. ZD318 conducted its final trial sortie on 29th June 2007 and was subsequently flown to RAF Cottesmore by Lt Cdr Chris Gotke on 11th July 2007 where it was repurposed for ground instructional duties.

 

XV779 GR3 Harrier RAF Wittering

In all, this was such a fun photoshoot to do, I even had the opportunity to put one of my specialities into action with a 360 camera in the cockpit of the GR7.


ZD318 Harrier GR7 Cockpit

I grew up in the shadow of RAF Cottesmore so it was superb to see the Harrier back where it belongs on the ramp. A huge thank-you to the RAF Wittering Heritage Centre for being the backbone of this shoot I can assure you it was greatly appreciated by a great many people!

 

One little footnote of sorts to this whole episode, it reminded me that a few years ago I put together a little tribute to the Harrier and its legacy with the Joint Force Harrier patch I had been given as a cadet with 1279 Squadron.

Harrier Retirement Squadron Prints

This print is numbered 4/20 produced by Squadron Prints for the disbandment of the Harrier in 2010. It now carries the signatures of some of the most illustrious names connected to the Harrier.

 

  • Bill Bedford, OBE, AFC, FRAeS (Chief Test Pilot)

  • Hugh Mereweather, OBE, BSc (Eng), FRAeS (Deputy Chief Test Pilot)

  • Ralph Spencer Hooper, OBE, DCAe, DAeH, CEng, MIMechE, FREng, FRAeS (Project Engineer)

  • Dr. Gordon Manns Lewis, CBE, MA, FREng, FIMechE, FRAeS (Designer)

  • Captain Eric Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, Hon FRAeS, RN (Test Piot)

  • Air Chief Marshal Sir Richard Johns, GCB, KCVO, CBE, FRAeS

  • Air Vice Marshal Garry Waterfall, OBE, RAF – RAF Cottesmore Station Commander

  • Air Vice Marshal George Black, CB, OBE, AFC*, RAF (OC Wildenwrath 1971-73)

  • Air Vice Marshal Alan Merriman, CBE, AFC*, RAF (1st OC RAF Wittering 1969-71)

  • Air Commodore Frank Mitchell, RAF

  • Wing Commander Simon Jessett, RAF – OC IV Squadron

  • Wing Commander Dave Haines, RAF, MA, MBA – OC 1(F) Squadron

  • Wing Commander C. C. Rustin, AFC*, BSc, CEng, MRAeS, RAF (Test Pilot)

  • Cdr Dave Lindsay, RN – OC 800 Squadron

  • Squadron Leader Tom Lecky-Thompson (Test Pilot & trans-Atlantic record breaker)

  • Flight Lieutenant John Farley, OBE, AFC, CEng, RAF (Test Pilot)

 

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