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USMC Harrier
Chris (right) discusses instructor tactics with his squadron colleague Capt Todd White

Royal Navy Harrier pilot flies again

Published: 19 Aug 2014

From Navy News

Harrier pilot Lt Chris Roy is airborne again – this time in US Marine Corps jump jets – as part of the long-term programme to prepare for the arrival of the Lightning II strike fighter.

The Scotsman is on a three-and-a-half-year exchange with the squadron which trains American pilots for front-line duties with the Corps.

If you never expected to see a Fleet Air Arm aviator in the cockpit of a Harrier again, take another look.

In the rear – instructor’s – cockpit of a two-seat jump jet is Lt Chris Roy, passing on his expertise to a student US Marine Corps pilot.

And at the same time, the Fleet Air Arm aviator is keeping his hand in at fast jet flying as part of a wide-ranging exchange programme with the US military to help both countries prepare for the arrival of Harrier’s successor, the F35 Lightning II.

Although the Harrier was retired in the UK following 2010’s defence review, the AV8B variant continues to fly with the Spanish, Italians and especially the US Marine Corps (who intend to operate the jump jet until the end of nextdecade).

Chris – a veteran of both the RN and RAF variants of the Harrier – is six months into a three-and-a-half year draft with Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 (VMAT-203), which feeds the US Marine Corps’ front-line squadrons with freshly-qualified pilots.

“For me, it’s a great opportunity. It’s a great plan that our two militaries have put together, and it’s fantastic to be right in the middle of it,” Chris enthuses.

The first Fleet Air Arm and RAF F35 pilots are training with their US counterparts at Eglin Air Base in Florida, ground crews are learning how to maintain a strike fighter which is two generations ahead of the Harrier, other RN aviators are flying Hornets with the US military, and handlers are gaining vital experience on the expansive decks of American flat-tops.

These hands across the ocean are all to help Britain return to the big carrier game with the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth so the two navies can work side-by-side on operations.

“It is my job to learn as much as I can while I’m here so, when my time at 203 is done, I can return to the UK and take the lessons I have learnt from the US Marine Corps to our F35 force,” Chris said.

His squadron – known as the Hawks – is normally based at Cherry Point in North Carolina, but decamped for a fortnight to Yuma in Arizona, a proverbial stone’s throw from the Mexican border, for weapons and tactics training.

“In Yuma, the flying is fantastic. The weather here is great, and the range complex is the best I have ever seen,” he said.

His six months attached to the Hawks has not merely refreshed his fast jet skills but given him an insight into the ethos of the semper fi guys.

“There is a common goal when it comes to Marine Corps aviation. That common goal is to support their marine brothers and sisters on the ground,” he explains.

“Every marine in our squadron – from the student pilots down to our most junior private – understands that and therefore understands how their contribution helps to achieve the overall effect. That is hugely impressive.”

Pictures: Cpl Brendan King, USMC

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