Growing up in the late 50`s and early 60`s was a golden age for little boys and little girls interested in aviation. Harold Wilson spoke of the white heat of technology and it seemed that anything was possible. It might be a sign of age, but having witnessed innovations considered to be science fiction, baby boom aircraft nerds now sigh as the amazing becomes obsolete; the Harrier has flown its last.
It might be hard to believe now, but way back then test pilots and aircraft designers attracted the equivalent attention now bestowed on the talentless exhibits on television freak shows. Previously, brainy, caricature boffins and dashing young aviators faced newsreel cameras and promised lunar landings, re-usable spacecraft, space tourism, supersonic passenger transport and even a fast fighting jet that could hover and, if required, fly backwards. Even the gullible were sceptical but with aircraft with names like Javelin, English Electric Lightening and Vulcan, a generation of Airfix kit makers became hooked.
As beatlemania gave way to the summer of love, more thoughtful anoraks began to have difficulty in reconciling the beauty of a Vulcan at full throttle with the amount of carbon being kicked out of the four Bristol Olympus turbojets or the bucket full of instant sunshine in the bomb bay designed to crisp the Red Army. It was not considered cool to admit to an admiration of a B-52 at a Jethro Tull gig.
It has been exactly 38 years since mankind last visited the moon and the NASA Space Shuttle programme will end in the new year. Concorde was grounded and scrapped through no fault of its own in 2003 and yesterday saw the last operational flight of the Harrier, a development of the earlier Kestrel and before that, a contraption known as the flying bedstead. When the Harrier first flew in 1967, the British aerospace industry was so advanced and so generously funded that it led the world in research, development and production. From its first operational flight to its last, the Harrier remained unique, versatile and very special.
Nostalgia, however, has no role in hard economics or the changing demands on strategic military assets. In a world with unpredictable threats of increasing complexity, the retirement of the Harrier force along with the withdrawal of the Nimrod AWACS surveillance platform might turn out to be foolhardy.
Needing about the space of a tennis court as a base to refuel and re-arm, the Harrier in a ground attack scenario could easily neutralise the threat of violent, revolutionary terrorists as they roll their wheelchairs towards innocent police officers. Specialist sensors in the aircraft’s radome could identify known carriers of cerebral palsy allowing SWAT teams on the ground to remove the target thus allowing the Harrier to strafe the enemy WMD. Even a mere puncture to one of the tyres would be a victory in the war against terror.
The Nimrod system could also be re-deployed in these dangerous days for freedom and once again make a vital contribution to national security. Just three aircraft could maintain a standing electronic sentry 30,000 feet above Oxfordshire and intercept dastardly assassination plots hatched by 12-year-old anarchists on Facebook. Within seconds, the Nimrod crew could alert Special Branch to dispatch a response team to a school, extract the child and hold him responsible for any subsequent shooting of the lower sixth hockey team. The expense is minimal compared to the avoidance of a letter of protest being delivered to the constituency office of the Prime Minister. Nimrod could also multi-task by monitoring Twitter for jokes and so produce further expenditure savings.
The genius of the coalition government defence revue is only slowly being revealed. The inspired decision to build aircraft carriers that will not carry aircraft is a master stroke of strategic planning. Without all those expensive jets taking up all the room, the carriers can be used as prison hulks to hold on remand the growing number of rapists, perverts, slave masters, junkies, onanists and Julian Assange who, coincidentally, might have criticised or embarrassed national governments. Solitary confinement and bail set at £250,000 on the strength of allegations without evidence from CIA paid informants will be more effective if anchored off Rockall or Spitsbergen.
Through adversity to the stars might have been the path of Harrier and Nimrod, but for Jody McIntyre, the path through adversity led to the gutter and then, even more humiliating, to Ben Brown at the BBC. Tally ho chaps!