Navy help remove iconic aircraft at home of F-35B strike fighters

Topic: Equipment and TechEnvironmental impact

ROYAL Navy aircraft recovery specialists helped to remove a Cold War-era bomber aircraft from RAF Marham in Nofolk.

Personnel from the Joint Aircraft Recovery and Transportation Squadron – JARTS – were called in to take down the Victor gate guardian aircraft, which was in a poor state.

The 35-metre long aircraft, produced by Handley Page, 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 and final V-bomber to be operated by the RAF.

Converted to tankers, in 1982 Victor aircraft from RAF Marham took part in Operation Black Buck during the Falklands War – the legendary long-range mission by a Vulcan to bomb Argentine forces at Port Stanley airport.

Potential purchasers had initially been invited to submit bids to take on the aircraft but, due to the size of the Victor and the complexities in removing and maintaining her, along with the associated costs, no-one was able to take on the project.

JARTS, based at MOD Boscombe Down in Wiltshire, comprises personnel from the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, who are dedicated to the safe recovery and transportation of crashed aircraft in the UK and overseas.

JARTS enlisted the help of Recovery Mechanics from 7 Aviation Close Support Battalion REME, based at Wattisham Airfield in Suffolk.

They supported with the preparation of the ground and used their MAN SVR Recovery vehicles to pull the Victor from her position on a gravel area, onto the hardstanding of the station car park before dismantling could commence.

Following months of planning, made even more complicated with the additional Covid-19 precautions that had to be put in place, and after the bird nesting season, the work to dismantle the aircraft was finally underway.

The whole removal process took approximately two weeks with the team working into the night on occasions to get the job done.

RAF Marham is home to the Lightning Force F-35B aircraft, which will join HMS Queen Elizabeth’s Carrier Strike Group when she deploys this year.

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 [the 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.” 

Victor aircraft can still be seen at the Royal Air Force Museum and the Imperial War Museum collection at Duxford.

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.

CPO Tim Burton, JARTS project manager