Harrier flies into the history books

BRITAIN'S Harrier jump jets took off on what was billed as their "final flight" before the axe of Government spending cuts falls on them.

The 16-strong fleet of distinctive aircraft soared into the grey skies above RAF Cottesmore in the East Midlands on a farewell journey taking them over several other RAF bases.

They flew over the nearby town centres of Stamford and Oakham as well as Lincoln Cathedral before landing back at RAF Cottesmore.

The warplanes date back to the 1960s when the first generation

of Harriers were built in the


They became famous for their ability to hover above the


In 1969 the Royal Air Force became the first in the world to use the jets' unusual vertical take-off and landing abilities.

This distinctive feature enabled the aircraft to fly in and out of areas near to the battlefield that conventional aircraft cannot reach.

But the planes fell victim to the recent bout of belt-tightening by the coalition, which announced they would be removed from service in this autumn's defence review.

Yesterday's flight was in celebration of their retirement, the Ministry of Defence chiefs said.

It follows the HMS Ark Royal's return to its home port following a farewell tour of the UK earlier this month.

The iconic aircraft carrier, adopted by Leeds, has also been retired in defence cuts.

Commenting on the final flight, Group Commander Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell said: "The Harrier is a true icon and stands testament to the innovation and excellence of British design and engineering, and the skill and courage of our airmen.

"It has had a truly distinguished service with both the RAF and the Royal Navy, from the South Atlantic to the skies over Afghanistan.

"It now takes its place in history as one of aviation's greats."