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Friday, 17 December 2010

Harriers put on a showy goodbye

As Japanese say 'Hai' to our Harriers.

Photograph supplied by kind permission of Martin Brookes - if only I had the technical know-how to upload it - heigh ho!

On Wednesday RAF pilots put on a show stopping display, despite the low cloud cover over RAF Cottesmore. It is rumoured that our Harrier jets have been sold to the Japanese. So possibly they may yet be used as a first line of defence against Chinese military might. Although the Chinese onslaught is as yet limited to commercial warfare, predominantly in Africa.

Whilst an assortment of supposed ‘dignitaries’ assembled at the main gate to RAF Cottesmore, before being waved through by MoD policemen – no doubt to partake of some yummy scrummy military rations and the odd tot, or not so odd tot of ethanol, the rest of us assembled at crash gate one and made our way through muddy fields. Enthusiasts with long lens cameras came from Germany, Devon, Scotland, Tynemouth, Cheshire and of course good old Oakham.

RAF Cottesmore was first mooted in 1936 and referred to as ‘The Thistleton Site.’ It became operational in 1938 under Wing Commander H V Drew OBE AFC. By 1943 we had 3,700 U S Airmen stationed at Cottesmore – all determined to be as hospitable as war time rationing and American supply chains allowed. Exton Hall was requisitioned for the burgeoning accommodation needs at the base. In 1999, after our airbase in Germany closed, the Harriers were stationed at Cottesmore. Cottesmore is the second highest air base in the country at around 425 ft above sea level. On Wednesday 15 December 2010 the cloud cover was disappointing. Nevertheless the RAF put on a show of magnificent proportions, hovering, flying in formations of four, peeling off with precision. The RAF, in a spirit of egality, ensured that the assembled photographers at crash gate one got a fantastic display.

My father did his National Service in the RAF and had fond memories of his two years of service prior to going to University. He was eventually posted to Cranwell and got his wings in a Tiger Moth, in which his instructor had told him to simulate a stalled landing. Unfortunately he didn’t hear the word ‘simulate’ and so stalled the plane before taking it in to land. He couldn’t understand why the instructor’s knuckles had turned white.

What will happen to Cottesmore now? There are rumours; rumours that the Air Tattoo at Fairford will come to Cottesmore in 2012; rumours that it will be turned into an immigration centre to house families and children of detained immigrants awaiting the Immigration Appeal Tribunal decisions; rumours that the bully boys of the army and their blinkered commanders will take over the base; pressure from a local Councillor to turn it into a commercial airport. The truth is no one knows. What we do know is that if nothing comes into the base Cottesmore and Oakham will become a ghost town, house prices will plummet and we will be yet another rural backwater with no local economy to sustain us. Perhaps then we might get a change of political leadership. Every cloud …

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