Recovery specialists within the Royal Navy have assisted in the removal of a Cold War-era Handley Page Victor Gate Guardian at RAF Marham in Norfolk
The Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transportation Squadron (or JARTS), more informally known as 'Crash and Smash', is based at MOD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire. The squadron comprises personnel from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, each of whom are dedicated to the safe recovery and transportation of crashed aircraft in the UK and overseas.
The 35-metre long Victor aircraft up for removal was a jet-engined strategic bomber, which had a crew of five and served as Britain’s nuclear deterrent until 1968. The aircraft was the third V-bomber to be operated by the RAF, and was the final one following the Vulcan and Valiant bombers.
Since its retirement, the Victor has stood as the gate guardian at the RAF base in Norfolk. In 2020, the opportunity arose for the aircraft to be bought at auction when potential buyers were encouraged to submit bids for the bomber. However, nobody was able to offer the funds in combination with the difficulties of removing and maintaining the bomber; as a result, it was decided that the Victor was to be removed.
Following months of planning, made even more complicated with the additional Covid-19 precautions that had to be put in place, the work to dismantle the aircraft was finally underway.
As well as JARTS, the help of recovery mechanics from 7 Aviation Close Support Battalion REME was enlisted in the removal. The Suffolk-based battalion supported with the preparation of the ground. Their MAN SVR Recovery vehicles pulled the Victor from her position on a gravel area, onto the hardstanding of the station car park before dismantling could commence.
The whole removal process took approximately two weeks with the team working into the night on occasions to get the job done.
JARTS project manager, Chief Petty Officer Tim Burton, said: “When we were asked to assist with the disposal of the Victor Gate Guardian we jumped at the chance.
“We don’t get tasked to deal with the recovery of a large aircraft such as this very often, so this was a fantastic training opportunity for the team.
“There were added challenges with the removal as we had to ensure that Covid-19 guidelines were adhered to and, with the proud history of the Victor, we had to dismantle her in a sensitive manner. I am really proud of the way the JARTS team and Recovery Mechanics from 7 Aviation Close Support Battalion REME worked together to achieve this.”
Roger Haller, who was the last Victor Crew Chief, described it as "a bit of a sad day".
"I have some fond memories of this [aircraft], going around the world in that," the RAF veteran said.
RAF Marham Station Commander, Group Captain Jim Beck said: “Whilst it was sad to see the Victor Gate Guardian go the decision to remove her had to be made. Despite the fantastic efforts of a team of volunteers who tried to maintain her the aircraft was in very poor condition.
“We didn’t have the time, funds or indeed the expertise to keep her in a safe condition. The Victor will not be forgotten though as there are plans to commemorate the V Force within the area where the Victor stood when the aircraft is replaced by a Tornado GR4.”
Pictures courtesy of Royal Navy