Warplane memorial saved for Norfolk

RICHARD BATSON A sleek jet which is a symbol of RAF Coltishall's glory days, and a memorial to dead airmen, is set to make a final 10-mile sortie to the grounds of County Hall.

RICHARD BATSON

A sleek jet which is a symbol of RAF Coltishall's glory days, and a memorial to dead airmen, has been saved from taking flight out of Norfolk.

The Jaguar which has struck a dramatic pose at the now-closed airbase's gateway is set to make a final 10-mile sortie to the grounds of County Hall.

News of the move has been welcomed by the RAF and council as a way of ensuring the 66-year special relationship between the airbase and the county was not forgotten.

The £15,000 cost will be covered by the county council, whose cabinet agreed the project today as an urgent item of business because of the tight timescale involved.

The plane, which commemorates the loss of more than 30 fliers and ground crew on the Jaguar force, was always due to be removed as part of the station site clearance ahead of its imminent sale.

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There had been talk of it heading to RAF Coningsby, where the “live” Jaguars have gone after leaving Coltishall last April, or even to the radar museum attraction at nearby RAF Neatishead.

But the RAF was unable to give it to a museum due to ministry disposal rules, and they were also unwilling to sell it on the open market because it was also a memorial.

Other possible sites inside county hall grounds, and elsewhere, were considered, but were ruled out because of lack of security and concern about “minor damage through play or mischief” said a report to councillors, which added that the proposed grassland location near the main public entrance was covered by CCTV.

Afterwards council leader, Shaun Murphy, a former RAF officer, said he had written to the RAF making a case for the Jaguar memorial to be moved to the county hall, “pointing out that we would be able to care properly for it in our own grounds.”

He was delighted they had agreed, and felt the plane would a “suitable long-term memorial to the 'spirit of Coltishall'” and the personnel who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country.

The sentiments were echoed by the current commanding officer of the remaining RAF detachment at the base, Sqn Ldr Jason Hughes added he was delighted that it was staying in Norfolk as a reminder of the “special relationship” between the base and county.

The aircraft, which has a 28ft wingspan, is 55ft long and weighs about six tones with its pylon, will have to be taken from its plinth by crane, and its wing removed before being transported on low loaders. The RAF will cover the costs of moving and mounting the Jaguar. But the council will pay £6,000 to £8,000 for preparing the plinth, another £2,000 for lighting, and up to £5,000 for a self-draining surface.

Maintenance would be carried out by former Jaguar technicians who were keen to volunteer their time. And when the Jaguars go out of RAF service in October the council will also ask for some free spare parts, such as panels, canopies and markings, to help keep the plane looking in good condition.

The move still has to seek planning permission, and a final rubber stamping from the Ministry of Defence - but with no major problems foreseen with either bit of paperwork.

The plane involved, XW563, has been standing sentinel outside the gate for the past five years.

It was a pre-production aircraft, the second Jaguar airframe ever built, and first flew in 1970.

After 678 hours of flight testing it was retired in 1977 and used as a weapon-loading trainer. Its first spell as a gate guardian was at RAF Bruggen in Germany until it moved to Coltishall in 2001.

It is a hollow shell, having had all its internal gadgetry removed, including cockpit instrumentation and ejector seat.

On arrival at Coltishall it was cleaned, repainted in gloss grey finish and remounted with drop tanks and under-wing, but empty, electronic defensive pods.

Its sister gate guard plane, a replica of a Hurricane flown by one of the base's famous Battle of Britain aces, the legless Sir Douglas Bader, has already been moved to the High Wycombe headquarters of RAF Strike Command.