This “Harrier Over Stonehenge in Pewter” was completed and Submitted to the 2009 Clonehenge contest today Dec 15. The following muttering as first published on Dec 6, but has been edited and updated a bit sense then. More pictures can be found at the StonehengeCollectables Aviation Gallery
In tribute to the legend of the Harrier hovering over Stonehenge
I assembled a “Build Your Own Stonehenge” kit in a clear walled paint can I found at an arts and craft shop. This is a work in progress and subject to improvements, for now I will title this “Harrier Over Stonehenge Diorama Version 1.0”. More can be found at the StonehengeCollectables Aviation Gallery
The incident that inspired this took place in 1971 when a small group of USMC pilots were getting ready to bring the first 6 Harriers back Stateside from England. To quote the Marine pilot involved “It did not do any real damage but I sure gave Them a good shake, ya and they were real ticked off about it too.” There were some who felt at the time no harm was done and “They” were overdue for a good dusting. On the other hand some considered it an international incident and gave the pilot the bum rushed back to the States. I will never really know for sure if “They” were the stones or the Brits involved that got a good dusting off. There was talk of throwing the pilot out of the Harrier program and sending him off to fly F4’s again, and most likely back to Nam to play SAM target again. My personal knowledge is limited as to what exactly happened in England. Shortly after arriving stateside, They sent the pilot in question to me to re-certify for active flight status in F4’s.
In 1971, I had what I considered to be one of the most useless jobs in the history of Marine Corp Aviation, yet far better than the threatened alternative of being a helicopter door. I was an Aviation Training Device Technician and Instructor running a flight simulator at MCAS Beaufort. My job was to give NATOPS flight proficiency tests to F4 Phantom jocks, mostly fresh returns from Vietnam because they did not have sufficient flight time in civilian airspace in the the last year or more to be considered current. The hundreds of hours they had flown in combat did not count, they still had to pass my silly simulator tests to maintain their active flight status Stateside. One afternoon I was told that a Harrier pilots would be coming by for a NATOPS flight check, and orders from above was to cut him no slack. It was otherwise to be a quiet afternoon. I had a local pilot checking out a newly assigned RIO (backseater) scheduled the hour before, for a simple check ride. All I had to do is get these 4 guys through an out and I could bail out early for the day and head for the beach.
The AV8 Harriers had just arrived from England and were tucked away on the other side of the base where the A4 Skyhawk squadron had just vacated. I along with just about everyone else on base was in awe of these birds ability to point their exhaust nozzles straight down and hover on the blast like a helicopter. Those who had access to the flight line soon discovered just how much engine blast and noise a Harrier could generate. But I digress ..
I will always wounder if what happened that afternoon was a twist of fate or a simple case of Marines taking care of Marines. The first Pilot and his RIO ran a bit late and were leaving the simulator at the exact same time the AV8 pilot and his temporally assigned RIO arrive for the his NATOPS test. The four of them, ran into each other in the control area right in front of my console. Well you never saw such a commotion, it was like a home coming. It turned out that the RIO from the first pair flew backseat for the AV8 pilot in Nam before he was assigned to the Harrier program. The first pilot and second RIO also turned out to be friends from the same squadron and with my permission bailed out for the O club leaving the two old friends to run the test together and get caught up. There was no question these two were a a tight team. I signed them off in short order and like most returning flight crews I tested, just let them play awhile and see if they could tear the wings off in simulation. It turns out that the RIO had heard a rumor that one of the Harrier pilots had buzzed Stonehenge and asked his friend it there was any truth to the story. I will never forget his answer. I turns out that for his own reasons at the time, he did in fact deviated from his assigned flight path and gave Stonehenge a good shake. As one might expect all hell broke loose over the incident, and he found himself bum rushed back to the States, with threats of being put back in F4’s, hence the NATOPS test and why we were all here at that moment, when I wanted to be on the beach. His story held my attention and although I wanted to ask a slew of questions, I kept my mouth shut, quite uncharacteristic for me. My Grandfather was involve in the early days of Aviation in Great Britain, and as a young boy listened to his stories of the early days of flight and Stonehenge. He talked of flying over Stonehenge as being a common goal amongst the early British Aviators some flying well out of their way just to circle the stones once. I will mutter more regarding the First Military Air Trials in 1911 at Larkhill field later, for now it surf ices to say that the maneuverability test at the Larkhill trials was to fly a figure eight course between the military hangers at the north end of the airfield, out over Stonehenge to the south and back.
Several years ago while talking about my postcard collection celebrating Aviation at and over Stonehenge, the question of the Harrier over Stonehenge urban legend came up again. I told the story to the group and we all had a good laugh. Someone suggested it would make a nice postcard subject, so I went home and made a Harrier over Stonehenge Ghostview postcard celebrating the fond memory. The postcard was a three sided laminate made from a photo I took at Stonehenge in 1988, a picture of a hovering Harrier I took in the 80’s as a mask laminated in the middle of the card so that ghost image of the Harrier was only visible like a watermark when you held it up to a bright light.
This is a work in progress, I soon plan to publish pictures of a die cast Harrier over a pewter Stonehenge I am currently working on. Till then back to the Hobby shop to see if I can find some N gauge railroad people and maybe some clouds to improve this one. As Stonehenge Guy I will post updates to this and my StonehengeCollectables project on Twitter as they continue to evolves over time.
In case anyone was wondering, the pilot in question stayed with the Harrier program. The powers to be felt that Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children had invested a small fortune in his training and was not going to waste it over this. I believe he went on to be an instructor, but I am not totally sure, I had moved on by then. The truth be told, I do not even remember his name any more, just the whispered tones he used while telling his old friend his story stick in my head these many years latter.