Last Harrier jet leaves Ark Royal

A Harrier jump jet took off today for the last time from a British aircraft carrier, bringing an end to a proud history of naval and aviation endeavour.

Flight Commander James Blackmore was the last of four Harrier GR9 pilots to roar off the deck of HMS Ark Royal which was sailing from North Shields, North Tyneside, across the North Sea, to Hamburg, Germany.



The Harriers were heading 150 miles back to RAF Cottesmore, Lincolnshire, ahead of decommissioning next year.



The Ark Royal, the Navy's Fleet Flagship, will eventually head back to her Portsmouth base on December 3, where she will end her active life three years before it was planned and 25 years after she was built on Tyneside.



The decision to scrap both was described by one senior officer on board as "madness".



So the last meeting of both famous names was a poignant moment for the crew, who lined the decks to watch the historic departure.



As the Harriers warmed their engines, squally showers washed across the flight deck.



But the sun came out shortly after 9am when the planes punched through a chilly northerly wind and hurtled off the desk in a cloud of spray.



In an ironic twist a cargo vessel called Happy Harrier had a great view of the display.



Before the flight, Fl Com Blackmore, 35, said: "I am immensely proud and it is a real privilege to be the last pilot to fly off Ark Royal.



"It is amazing; I watched a Harrier hovering over Chatham dockyard when I was eight years old and I am now fortunate enough to be flying the Harrier today.



"It's an amazing aircraft, superb to fly and just very enjoyable."



The cost-cutting decision to scrap Britain's fixed-wing capability from aircraft carriers caused consternation and puzzlement on board the ship, which some say carries the most famous name in naval history.



This version is the fifth Ark Royal. The first saw battle in 1588 and smashed the Spanish Armada.



The latest, and possibly last, saw active service in the Balkans and the second Gulf War.



It will be replaced by the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carrier, which will not come into service until the end of the decade. They will carry F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.



Captain Jerry Kyd, who only took command of Ark Royal in September, took the 22,000-tonne vessel to Scotland to have its major weaponry removed.



He said: "It was a sad time because, for a ship like this, it is like taking the teeth from a tiger."



There was a tear in his eye when the last Harrier took off, he admitted.



"It was an emotional moment and also one of real pride as we look back over 25 years service to Queen and country.



"No naval officer wants to see any ship decommissioned early and she is a fine vessel and she has a fine history.



"She is at the peak of her efficiency but one understands that very difficult decisions have to be made across Government.



"We have flown off four aircraft and it marks the end of an era. I think the whole ship's company feel bittersweet about it. We understand some tough decisions have had to be made."



It is believed one of the new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, which is due to be named Prince Charles, could be passed on the Ark Royal name.



Capt Kyd hoped there would be a sixth Ark Royal in the future.



"It's an iconic name that has real resonance with the British people, with the Royal Navy and around the world."



Petty Officer David Terracciano, a 31-year-old engineering technician from Portsmouth, was "gutted" about Ark Royal being decommissioned.



"We were shocked when we heard the news on the television and I came into work not knowing if it was true. It got confirmed later that day and it was a strange way to find out.



"Morale is good. It's only iron and steel at the end of the day. It's the name that's famous, it's a shame they're not making another one."



Petty Officer aircraft controller Andrew Collins, 26, from Glasgow, said: "HMS Ark Royal is like the girlfriend you hate and you only realise you loved her when she has binned you.



"Life at sea is a harsh reality and you spend an awful lot of time away from friends and family.



"There's a lot of pride on board that we serve on the Fleet Flagship. It's the most famous warship in the world."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
The Aviva Premiership trophy
rugby union All the latest from Twickenham
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Aston Villa manager Tim Sherwood
footballDanny Higginbotham: Tim Sherwood must play game of two halves to cause major upset
News
Caber is trained to help child victims of serious crimes testify
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor