A formation of Harrier jump jets has made its final journey from HMS Ark Royal – the last such flight from a UK aircraft carrier for about 10 years. Four Harrier GR9s took off from HMS Ark Royal approximately 40 nautical miles (74km) off the coast of Newcastle.
Both the Ark Royal and the Harriers are being scrapped under cost-saving plans. The Ark Royal was sailing across the North Sea to Hamburg in Germany.
Lt Cdr James Blackmore, who was the last Harrier pilot to leave, said he was immensely proud.
“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,” he said.
The crew of the 22,000-tonne Ark Royal, which has seen active service in the Balkans and 2003 invasion of Iraq, lined the decks to watch the historic departure.
Captain Jerry Kyd said there was a tear in his eye when the last Harrier left.
“It was an emotional moment and also one of real pride as we look back over 25 years service to Queen and country,” he said. “No naval officer wants to see any ship decommissioned early and she is a fine vessel and she has a fine history.
Petty Officer 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.”
The Ark Royal – the Royal Navy’s flagship – will eventually head back to her Portsmouth base on 3 December.
It will be replaced by the Queen Elizabeth class of aircraft carrier at the end of the decade, which will carry F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
- BBC News UK