THREE squadrons were disbanded at RAF Wittering today (Friday) following the decision to axe the Harrier jump jet.
Personnel of the 800 Royal Naval Air Squadron, 1 Squadron and 4 Squadron which make up the Joint Force Harrier took part in a farewell cermeony at RAF Wittering, the home of the Harrier, this morning.
Standards from the 1 and 4 squadrons were later laid up at All Saints Church in Stamford.
The ceremony involved 150 personnel members from the squadrons and was attended by 600 invited guests, many of them friends and family of the servicemen and women. Local dignitaries were also there, including Stamford mayor David Brailsford and Rutland County Council leader Roger Begy.
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton said: “Today we thank you for your professionalism and outstanding contribution to the three squadrons which have been united in a common endeavour.”
First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope said: “Every single one of you on parade today and every single one of you in the seats today should be proud, very proud of what you stand for and proud of what your squadrons have achieved across land and sea, day and night, time and time again.
“Your success has been down in no small part to the remarkable characteristics of the aircraft. The people are the heart of the Harrier.”
Admiral Stanhope said the decision to axe the Harrier fleet was “not one taken lightly or easily, but a painful decision” which had far reaching implications.
After the service, Joint Force Harrier Group Capt Gary Waterfall described the day as “sad and emotional”.
He said: “Today is a real day to pay back the help and support we’ve received from the wider community of Stamford and Rutland. The Harrier force has always been synonymous with Stamford.”
Station Commander of RAF Wittering Gp Capt Richard Knighton, who has been associated with the Harrier for 13 years, said: “It is a sad day but it is also a celebration of the recent history of the Harrier force and of the squadrons.
“The parade was a very poignant way of remembering those who were involved with the Harrier force over the last 41 years. It has been a day to remember and it is the end of an era.”
The Harrier jump jets are currently being stored at RAF Cottesmore. It is likely they will be sold.
RAF Cottesmore will formally close in March and RAF Wittering is under review.
A spokesman for RAF Wittering said the review was ongoing and the 1,200 personnel and 160 civil servants that remained on the base were being kept up to date. Pilots and staff are gradually being posted elsewhere.
Personnel from 1 and 4 Squadrons and guests attended All Saints Church in Stamford this afternoon where the standards were laid up.
The 800 Royal Naval Air Squadron was not involved as it does not have a standard.