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Sea Harriers fly with F-15s one last time

RAF LAKENHEATH, England — It wasn’t the first time Royal Navy FA2 Sea Harrier and 48th Fighter Wing F-15C Eagle jets collaborated in the sky to rehearse combat scenarios, but it will be the last when a two-week training exercise ends Friday.

Next month, the 801st Air Squadron — the last Sea Harrier detachment left in the Royal Navy — will decommission its beloved aircraft, which earned its fame from the Falklands War.

According to the Web site www.naval-technology.com, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence said the Sea Harrier’s departure is part of transforming the Royal Air Force and Navy’s Joint Force Harrier, which will, by 2007, fly the RAF GR9 Harrier aircraft.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will eventually replace all Harrier jets early next decade, the Web site stated.

The recent training above the North Sea area not only gave Sea Harrier pilots the opportunity to get behind the stick one more time but also gave Eagle pilots from 48th Fighter Wing’s 493rd Fighter Squadron a chance to try their air combat skills against a different type of aircraft.

“One of the best benefits we get from it is just the fact that they are a different aircraft and how our aircraft reacts to that, instead of going against the same jets all the time,” said Capt. Kurt Duffy, a F-15C pilot with the 493rd Fighter Squadron.

Duffy, who has worked with the Sea Harrier pilots before, added that it’s always a benefit to train closely with them in case hostility does arise.

“If we get the call to go out as NATO, we’ll have to definitely fly with them,” he said.

Even though his aircraft is on its way out, Royal Navy Lt. Kieron Steen still appreciated the chance to test his skills against the Reapers of the 493rd Squadron.

“The Reapers are, without a question, the best air defense fighters in the region. So, we’ve come here to grade ourselves against them,” Steen said.

Many of the Sea Harrier pilots will move on to pilot GR9 Harriers, which provide a better close air support capability, Steen said.

“The pilots are really sad [to see the Sea Harrier go]. It’s what we call a pilot’s aircraft. It will scare you and thrill you in a half a second,” Steen said with a smile.


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