After the withdrawal of the SEPECAT Jaguar from Royal Air Force frontline service on April 30, 2007, a number of airframes were destined for a new role within the service as part of 238 Squadron, No1 School of Technical Training (No1 SoTT). However, with technology and methods evolving, some of the elements within the training given are no longer required. This lead to the announcement from RAF Cosford that the final ever taxi run of an RAF Jaguar would take place on August 31, 2016. Not wishing their second retirement to slip away quietly, 238 Squadron were on hand to allow 150 enthusiasts on to the base to witness and capture RAF Cosford Jaguars last prowl.
Entering service with the RAF in 1974, the SEPECAT Jaguar was the result of an Anglo-French collaboration looking to design a new advanced jet trainer for both nations. Whilst the UK’s interest in the aircraft was purely that of training with an order for 150 of the two-seat machines, the French also planned to use it in small numbers for the low-level strike role. With delays in other programmes that had been aimed to deliver the same capability to the UK, including the eventually cancelled BAC-Dassault AFVG (which later morphed in to the MRCA project), it was soon realised that an alternate option was required. With that in mind, the number of trainer variants on order from the United Kingdom dropped to just 35, complemented with the addition of 165 single seat strike aircraft.
For 33 years, the Jaguar served the RAF with distinction while being operated both at home and abroad, with the home of the fleet being either RAF Brüggen, Germany during the latter Cold War years or RAF Coltishall, Norfolk, which was home to the Jaguar force in the jet’s final years – until its swift withdrawal. Aside from its Cold War duties, the Jaguar’s operational history also includes significant involvement in Operation Granby – the first Gulf War. With 12 GR1A aircraft operated by both 6 and 41 Squadrons and marked in the distinctive ‘desert pink’ scheme deployed to Muharraq, Bahrain, the Jaguars were forced to move away from their typical low-level strike profile. After quickly adapting the role required for Operation Granby, they completed 618 sorties with no losses against an array of targets between January 17 and December 24, 1991. The RAF Jaguar force went on to support Operation Provide Comfort/Safe Haven over Northern Iraq and a few years later were also involved with Operation Allied Force supporting NATO operations during the Kosovo War. Away from operations, training in the UK often involved low-level sorties where those enthusiasts who knew of the prime locations often captured some impressive shots of the jets where they were suited best – low and fast. The Jaguar also received media attention early in the early days of it career when XX109 (an airframe that today resides at the City of Norwich Aviation Museum) performed a motorway landing demonstration on the M55 just before its opening.
Although the announcement of the Jaguar withdrawal in 2007 due to budget cutbacks was already known, nobody expected the shock announcement on April 25, 2007 that the withdrawal from service would take place just 5 days later. With hurriedly arranged celebrations of the Jaguars 33 years’ service during the final days, the types flying days were very much ending. However, training requirements are not confined to the air and the extensive engineering requirements of the Royal Air Force led to a number of Jaguars being flown to RAF Cosford for use by No 1 School of Technical Training, with the final three aircraft arriving on July 2, 2007. Providing Aircraft Maintenance Mechanic and Weapons Technician aircraft handling training to new RAF students, a small number of the Cosford Jaguar fleet has been kept in ‘flight’ condition for use as ground taxi airframes – albeit with a number of restrictions such as inhibited engines. However, as the Adour engines reach the end of their life, alternative options had to be found and the decision was taken to replace the ground handling part of the training with a more modern, computer based simulation option – thereby consigning the Jaguars roaming days to the history book. Thankfully for enthusiasts, the staff of 238 Squadron and No 1 SoTT were not willing to let this pass quietly by and arranged one final event to witness that very final taxi.
The event started with the 150 lucky ticket holders gathering within Hangar 1 of the museum – itself home to a number of interesting airframes such as Armstrong Whitworth Argosy C1 XP411, de Havilland Comet 1XB G-APAS and Hawker Siddeley Andover E3A XS639. After a short (but thorough) briefing on the plans for the day, it was time to head across to the designated area on the airfield where the majority of the action would take place. It was obvious from the start that thought had been put into the positioning of aircraft and the requirements for photographers. Those who have attended Cosford’s annual airshow will be more than aware that for the majority of the day the crowd line shoots into the sun and whilst many may have thought similar could happen for the Jaguar event, it was great to see a designated area that favoured the sun – when it appeared! With such a number of enthusiasts gathered, there were also initial concerns over space available however, that had also been very well thought out. Marked by cones and tape was an expansive area that allowed shooting from numerous positions in the three key areas where the day’s event would unfold – the parking dispersal, a secondary dispersal where the aircraft would perform the majority of their runs and the taxiway that linked the two. During the day it was often the case of watching people running between the areas to change angles and at no point did it ever feel cramped or was there fighting for that ‘prime’ position.
Greeted on arrival by two jets (XZ117/ES and XX738/ED) parked up on static display, it wasn’t long before the sound of the Jaguars Rolls-Royce Adour turbofans could be heard in the distance. Much to the satisfaction of the gathered crowd, the first two aircraft to appear in the distance from behind the control tower and head towards the awaiting crowd were two special schemes. Leading the way was the ever impressive ‘Spotty’ – Jaguar GR3 XX119/AI crewed by Sgt Gavin Sheffield. On board also was Elwood Bear, adding yet another type to his growing logbook! Following a short distance – but long enough to allow shots of each as they taxied past – was GR3 XX725 wearing its Operation Granby scheme and recently added 238 Squadron Second World War code KC-F, crewed by Cpl Jim Coupe. After a lengthy period of taxiing around the main dispersal, the two aircraft headed to join the two static aircraft and shutdown. As the crew climbed out, the next two taxiing aircraft appeared from the same location, this time a pair of two seat trainers in 6 Squadron markings – XX835/EX and XX847/EZ – crewed by Sgt Matt Swales and Mr Paul Bennett. Following the same pattern as the previous pair, it gave plenty of opportunity to run between the areas to get shots of both the taxi action and crewing out procedures. With the trainers joining the other four aircraft, it was time for everyone to get up close and personal with the days participants.
It’s not often that a chance is given nowadays to have a proper look around and inside a Jaguar, so it was great to see the two parked airframes opened up for a chance to climb inside with the ground crew more than happy to explain the various switches and controls inside. Externally a number of panels had also been opened giving an interesting peak in to the inner workings, including the type’s Aden cannon. The aircrew in control of the taxi runs were also more than happy to pose for pictures alongside the aircraft and talk to the enthusiasts about them.
After almost an hour – which allowed almost every possible angle to be covered – it was time to once more clear the parking area and await the second and final taxi runs. As the four aircraft started, accompanied by their famous deep boom as the engines spooled up, they slowly set off one by one and gathered in a line on the far dispersal. From there, the Jags were given a final chance to apply a just that little bit of power – as much as can be when pointed directly at a line of enthusiasts! – and stretch their legs for the last time. While this was going on the airfield fire crew prepared for a final salute. Led off by the Granby schemed machine, followed by the pair of T4s and then ‘Spotty’, the jets made their way under a water cannon salute and back towards their hangar. Whilst the first three aircraft shutdown, it was time for just one more sortie – the honour falling to XX119. Returning from the where it had started the day, it was fitting that this striking machine performed the final ever taxi run some nine years after making the last flight of a RAF Jaguar flight on July 2, 2007.
Although Cosford will still make use of the Jaguar in the engineering training role, a once common sound will no longer echo around the airfield as the RAF adopts synthetic training for its ground-handling syllabus. Praise should rightly be given to those behind the organisation of the day’s event and for allowing so many enthusiasts a chance to experience the Jaguar up close for one final time. Hopefully some of the airframes will find their way in to museum collections for preservation purposes and also make appearances at the annual airshow, but no longer will the Jaguar be allowed to prowl around their Shropshire home as they become forever confined to their hangars.
With thanks to staff at 238 Squadron, No 1 School of Technical Training at DCAE Cosford, especially Sqn Ldr Gav Stevens and the Jaguar crews, for their help and hospitality during the day.