And we do need less military hardware. With the world as allegedly screwed financially as it is, the only place needing to expand on military spending is probably somewhere like Switzerland, who might need to protect their banks. I mean, China won't be needing to expand. No one's going to attack them because they make all the stuff we want to buy, cheaply and often. They won't attack us because 90% of their population is too poor to buy the crap they need to sell to us. It's much easier now to fuck your neighbours over with commerce than it is with genocide and M.A.D.
So there's no place in this world for the remarkable, revolutionary Harrier. Whether you're a hippy or a conservative, if you have any pride at all in the achievements of this great (and it is still great, no matter what the Daily Mail et al tell you) nation, you've got to admit that it has earned its place not just in the archives of military advancement, but in engineering genius. Asking an aeroplane to go straight up in the air from a standing start is a bit like asking water to flow uphill, or a drunk to stand on a stepladder and spin on the spot without falling. Or asking David Cameron to actually think about the future of this country and him actually listen.
This 'plane is possibly the last reminder that we, the British, have at some point been world leaders in something other than invading places that don't have guns. We, the British, created an aircraft that was so unique it has never, in forty years, been equalled, let alone surpassed. And yeah... forty years! That's how long it probably is since we last made such a remarkable impact on world industry. The Harrier was so good even the Americans bought it!
However, going back to my interest in military marvels, I'm really hoping the Harrier will still grace our skies at airshows and public displays for years to come, because we've made a lot of historically important aeroplanes that we've mothballed, dismantled and scrapped. The Vulcan. The Mosquito. The Lightning. Concorde. Incredible, innovative machines all now left to newsreel footage and the loving reminiscence of ageing crew and support staff. Let's not make that mistake with the Harrier. Let's keep it - some at least - airworthy, if only so we can say "Look, we made this and no one's done it better since."
I was twelve when Argentina invaded the Falkland Isles. Even back then I thought the whole thing was a ridiculous idea, both to invade a tiny island and then send millions of pounds of hardware to win it back. But the point was I was twelve, and British, and there wasn't much to feel good about being British back then. If kicking the Argies arses was what was needed to lift our spirits (and draw attention away from the continuing destruction of our industry by a vicious, paranoid, shortsighted, greedy Prime Minister) then that was fair enough. The fact that going to war with Argentina was a bit like the Brazilian national football team playing Accrington Stanley was a moot point.
I got to see things I liked on telly. Our brave soldiers fighting for their lands, and more importantly to a kid who wants badly to be in the RAF, the sight of the Harrier jump-jet tearing up Argentine ground positions and taking down their crappy Mirages, Skyhawks and Pucaras. It was great, and it was made all the more amazing by the solid, factual, sincere reporting of Brian Hanrahan.
Brian died this week, age 61, after fighting cancer. It didn't seem right, somehow, that both he and the Harrier should both see their lives come to an end at roughly the same time. There are some things you just think will always be a fixture of British life, like Bruce Forsyth, complaining about the weather, or, if we're honest, being rubbish at things we invented.
I was impressed in the obituary on the BBC that they focussed on his phrase "I counted them all out, and I counted them all back in" because I can remember him saying that so clearly on the news back then in '82. He did it because he wasn't allowed to say how many jets had been used in the raids. Simple military logic, that one. I can't help thinking that in this day and age the press would push and push and push to get those figures to make the story sell better and attract more viewers.
Ahh. Simpler times. Different breeds of man and machine. Gods rest the both of you. Brian, I'll see you in the newsreel archives.
Harrier, I'll see you in the skies. Even if it's just with my eyes shut.