Issue 11 – Harrier

ac011-harrier-1I find this page hard to write, espcially when I am angry. One day my best friend counselled me thus: “If you feel anger, write about it, it will give you perspective and calm the emotion.” Okay, it’s worth a try, thought I. That said, you are looking at the 24th draft of this introduction. See, I told you it was hard.

I started writing about the Harrier years ago. I was captured by the unusual capabilities of the aircraft, the very oddness that is the essence of a Harrier in flight. So many great engineers and aviation pioneers tried and failed to create a working V/STOL fixed wing aircraft, then in the middle of this struggle, a Frenchman is introduced to two Englishmen by an American… and against all odds they succeed, not just succeed, but succeed brilliantly. It sounds like a set-up for a joke, but the “punchline” was the world’s first operational single engined fixed wing vertical/short takeoff and landing aircraft, the Harrier.

The important part of that description is single engined. When Michel Wibault (the Frenchman) introduced his concept to Sir Stanley Hooker and Gordon Lewis (the Englishmen) through Colonel John Driscoll (the American), what was to emerge is still the only engine capable of providing vertical and horizontal thrust in a single unit, the Bristol/Rolls-Royce Pegasus.

What this aircraft and engine achieved together is simply incredible. Overseas sales have brought millions of pounds into the country. Wars have been won – one on its slender wings alone. Innocent civilians have been protected from harm by despotic regimes. It has been developed by the US and Britain into an entirely new machine in effect, forging strong engineering links and military friendships between the countries. It is still one of the most potent and successful front line aircraft in service in the world, subject to upgrades and enhancements that keep it at the cutting edge 51 years after the prototype first flew in 1960, yet here, in 2011, the Harrier thunders on.

Well, almost.

This is where the anger comes in. India, Italy, Spain, Thailand and the United States Marine Corps still have Harriers. The United Kingdom, home of the Harrier, does not.

In writing the Harrier story, I discovered that the whole program hung on the knife edge of a political decision so often it was ridiculous, especially given the capabilities of the aircraft and its obvious applications. Some may consider that naïve, that all expensive projects have a political dimension that is inescapable in the modern world. The money has to come from somewhere, as I am often told. However, when those decisions are so obviously wrong, is it not our duty to question them?

The last RAF or Royal Navy Harrier flew in December 2010, yet the aircraft had only recently been subject to a £500 million upgrade that was to keep it in service until 2018, to retire when the F-35 entered service. A £574 million maintenance contract had been signed in 2009, and the £84 million Tactical Information Exchange Capability upgrade had flown for the first time on June 29, 2010 with service clearance trials ongoing, when suddenly the whole fleet was scrapped.

The reason was to reduce costs as part of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR)and due to its “limited capabilities”. Interestingly, the limited capabilities referred to include the removal of the 25mm Aden gun pods from these aircraft. Again, a political cost saving decision, but one which prompted a Parachute Regiment Major in Afghanistan to refer to the gun-less air support his position was receiving as “utterly, utterly useless”. So, in effect, one political decision so crippled the aircraft it made it easy prey for another.

Other decisions of the SDSR make less sense. The two new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy will have no aircraft for several years after launching, and one will be mothballed immediately. The F-35B STOVL will not be purchased, the F-35C variant with no vertical take off capability will replace it in smaller numbers. The end of the Harrier is also the end of V/STOL in the UK forces, despite its vindications of the past. For the next 10 years, the UK will have no aircraft carrier capability and no close support aircraft. It seems the lessons of the Falklands have been completely forgotten.

The missions over Libya as part of Operation Ellamy could have been tailor made for the Harrier Force which would have been a lot less expensive than the types used, in terms of finance, manpower and the damage these operations have done to the Typhoon program.

That operations in Libya began three months after the ideal aircraft to conduct them was retired can be seen as coincidence. That the US Marine Corps reactivated two Harrier Squadrons three weeks after the decision to retire the UK’s force can only be seen as proof that the decision was operationally wrong. I would dearly love to know how retiring an aircraft in the middle of expensive and already paid for upgrades is a cost saving. I would also love to know why other forces’ Harriers still, and always have, carried guns.

298_946490192This may be seen as bolting the door after the horse has trotted into the sunset, but I believe that such a ground breaking, effective and incredibly reliable aircraft as the Harrier deserves some comment, even if it is just to record the lamentable nature of its demise.

Dammit. It didn’t work. I am still angry. I will try to cheer up by next issue, promise.

All best,



8 Genesis of a concept
14 The Hawker P.1127
20 Kestrel, P.1154 and the Harrier
24 The Harrier GR.1 to GR.3
28 Frontline Harrier Belize
32 The first ship-borne Harriers
36 Eagles and Harriers
42 Battle Diary 1
50 Over the Falklands
60 A Yank in Her Majesty’s Service
72 Brit/Yank Lexicon
76 Sea Harrier F/A.2
80 The big wing birds
85 Flying Glass
86 Battle Diary 2
93 Battle Diary 3
95 The trainers
98 Marine AV-8Bs over Iraq
106 Harrier abroad
112 Last Harrier down
122 Farewell to the Harrier
126 Survivors


The Trainers – The Harrier T.2 to T.12, and the TAV-8A and B

298_2136218159The unusual handling of the new VTOL aircraft and the unique skills required of its pilots led to the development of a range of two-seat trainer variants to assist in converting pilots to the Harrier. Prior to its introduction, a new pilot’s first solo flight was also his first flight!

Ralph Hooper of Hawker Aircraft was a very busy man in 1966. Aside from overseeing the final design modifications to the six pre-production P.1127(RAF) aircraft, he was suddenly presented with a new development project which was to cause its own problems with regard to modifying the new airframe.

In June, 1966, the British Government had authorised a one-year study programme to examine the feasibility, and likely costs, of developing a two-seat trainer version of the Harrier as it was now officially named. The RAF was already making plans to develop a structured training course for the aircraft, which included a short helicopter course to introduce trainees to the reality of vertical flight. Even with this vertical training element, it was decided that the Harrier was so unusual that a two-seat trainer would be likely to reduce the training accident rate, not to mention be able to be pressed into service to supplement the combat fleet in the event of war.

To this end, Ralph Hooper turned his attention to the very difficult task of fitting a complete second cockpit, with all the attendant equipment, into a small airframe already completely full and close to its weight limits. To solve the weight problem, Hooper contacted Bristol Siddeley, which was already looking at increased thrust versions of the Pegasus which would satisfy the trainer’s needs. This settled, he began detail design work in order to accommodate the second cockpit.

Firstly, the nose was lengthened by 47 inches (1.2m) simply by moving the existing cockpit forward. In the space created, the second cockpit was added, but raised 18 inches (0.45m) for a number of reasons. Firstly, the instructor in the back would be able to see over the pupil’s head. That might sound elementary, but a number of jet training aircraft, such as the Folland Gnat and T-33, were in service where the instructor could see forward only by leaning to one side and looking down the spaces on either side of the pupil’s head and seat. Not a good way to fly, let alone teach someone else to fly!

Because the new cockpit was going to cause both a weight and an aerodynamic balance problem, the space under it was used to house equipment that had been in the extreme nose of the single seater, like the F.95 camera and some of the avionics. Moving these items aft lessened the balance problem but did not solve it.

To offset the increased nose weight, a new tailcone, 33 inches (0.84m) longer than the original, was added which contained around 180lb (81.6kg) of ballast. The entire fin was moved aft by 33.3 inches (0.85m) and the fin fillet was modified to take account of this. The fin also now sat on top of an 11-inch (0.28m) tall extension.

All these modifications solved the question of weight balance, but only partly addressed the aerodynamic balance problem. Under the fuselage a new and larger ventral fin was added on the centreline, immediately below the modified fin, to balance the increased side area of the new nose. In tests, even this was found to be insufficient to maintain directional stability, particularly at high angles of attack, so a further 18-inch (0.45m) extension was added to the top of the fin.

The new design was given the company designation of HS.1184, and the study revealed that the cost of a two-seater would be £1.15 million, as opposed to £0.85 million for the single-seater. This was deemed acceptable by the treasury, which after approving an order for two pre-production development aircraft as part of the study, ordered 14 production examples of the trainer, designated Harrier T.2 and powered by the Pegasus 6 Mk101 engine producing 19,000lb (8618kg) of thrust. The last four aircraft of this first batch of trainers, XW926 and 7 and XW933 and 4, were modified to take the Pegasus 10 Mk102 with 20,500lb (9299kg) of thrust, and these were designated as Harrier T.2As. The first 10 T.2s were later upgraded to T.2A standard with the addition of this engine.

In 1969, the first pre-production prototype, XW174, made its first flight in the hands of test pilot Duncan Simpson on April 22, followed by the second aircraft on July 14.

These trainers had the full avionics, navigation and attack systems of the single-seaters, the only exception being there was no moving map display in the rear cockpit, making them fully combat capable aircraft.

With the advent of the Harrier GR.3 with its nose-mounted Laser Ranger and Marked Target Seeker (LRMTS), the T.2As were further modified with the addition of the same system in the nose and the greater power of the Pegasus 11 Mk103 with 21,500lb (9752kg) thrust. They also carried the Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) equipment of the GR.3, mounted in the fin and rear fuselage. The new trainer was known as the T.4, with 13 T.2As being modified to this standard, alongside 12 new aircraft being built in small batches between 1976 and 1987.

The Royal Navy took an interest in the trainer for the Sea Harrier fleet, ordering a single example of a T.4, XW268, before the development of the navalised T.4N.

Three T.4Ns were built and had avionics more suitable for training Sea Harrier pilots, with the exception of the Blue Fox radar, which was not fitted. All four naval trainers were also not fitted with the RAF’s extended LRMTS nose, but in all other respects were fully combat capable as attack aircraft.

With the introduction into service of the Sea Harrier F/A.2, these three aircraft, and two additional T.4s acquired from the RAF, were converted to T.8 standard, flying for the first time in 1994. These aircraft had modified cockpits to better emulate the layout of the F/A.2, again without the Blue Vixen radar, and were powered by the improved Pegasus 11 Mk106 with 21,500lb (9752kg) thrust. Similarly, the RAF had planned to upgrade the T.4As to a new standard known as the T.6 to act as a trainer for the new Harrier GR.5. When it was fully understood just how different the new aircraft was from the earlier Harriers, this project was shelved in favour of a two seat version of the Harrier II, called the T.10.

The US Marine Corps Harrier training squadron, VMAT-203, operated 8 TAV-8As between 1975 and 1987, these aircraft being analogous to the RAF’s T.4, but without the LRMTS nose and the RWR tail. Like the RAF, the advent of the AV-8B in USMC service with its completely different digital cockpit, larger wing and different handling prompted the development of a two-seat version of the new type, known as the TAV-8B.

The improved aerodynamics of the AV-8B meant that the tail did not have to be quite so modified, as had been the case with the earlier trainers, in order to balance the two-seat cockpit which lengthened the nose by the same 47 inches (1.2m) as on the earlier types. On the AV-8B, the fin is increased in height by 17 inches (0.43m) and is of slight broader chord as a result, giving the required directional stability.

Jackie Jackson first flew the prototype on October 21, 1986, and the first production aircraft, 162963, was delivered to VMAT-203 on July 24, 1987. The cockpit is identical to that of the single seater, but the TAV-8B is not fully combat capable, as it only has two underwing pylons for the carriage of drop tanks or practice weapons.

The first 23 TAV-8Bs built, 22 for the USMC and one for the Spanish Navy, had the Pegasus 11 Mk106 with 21,500lb (9752kg) thrust. Two later aircraft built to Harrier II Plus standard but without the radar were delivered to the Italian Navy and powered by the Pegasus 11-61 or F402-RR-408 of 23,800lb (10,795kg) thrust.

The Harrier T.10 for the RAF was similar to the TAV-8B with one major exception, it retained the eight underwing pylons of the GR.5, and was fitted with the same Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) system, making it fully combat capable. Powered by the Pegasus 11-21 Mk106 of 21,750lb (9866kg) thrust, the first of 13 T.10s built for the RAF made its maiden flight on April 7, 1994, and entered service with 20(R) Squadron, the Harrier OCU, on March 1, 1995. The last trainer version, the T.12, was a conversion of the T.10 to the same weapons, avionics and software standard of the GR.9. Twelve aircraft were converted to T.12 standard between 2003 and 2006.

buynowThe Harrier Abroad

298_1921237385Overseas customers for the Harrier were surprisingly few. Interestingly, all the foreign air arms to operate the Harrier bought their aircraft through the United States with two exceptions.

With the exception of the British and US armed forces, who were partner countries in building the aircraft, there was little interest shown by other nations in ordering large numbers of the unique Harrier. However, several overseas customers were forthcoming, the largest order coming from the Indian Navy. Spain, Italy and Thailand also ordered both early- and late-model Harriers, and all still keep the aircraft in frontline service today.

Aside from these countries, Hawker Siddeley did have expressions of interest from a number of others, including Australia, Brazil, Switzerland, India and Japan.

Interestingly, after the political thaw in East–West relations during the 1970s, the Chinese Air Force entered into negotiations, but this deal was quashed as part of the adverse reaction to China’s invasion of Vietnam in 1979. Below are listed the countries who did buy the Harrier, and the types they purchased.

Spanish Navy

Spain’s interest in the Harrier was complicated by long-standing political friction between the British and Spanish governments during the 1970s, particularly over issues like Gibraltar. In order to complete the deal for six AV-8Ss and two TAV-8Ss, as the Spanish version of the Harrier AV-8A and TAV-8A were known, the aircraft were sold through the US, which acted as an intermediary to avoid any political entanglements or embarrassments. Both aircraft were powered by the Pegasus 11 Mk 150 with 21,500lb (9752kg) thrust and were equipped with mostly US avionics.

The aircraft were given the company designations of Harrier Mk 54 for the single seaters and Mk58 for the two seaters by Hawker Siddeley, but known as the VA-1 and VAE-1 in Spain. They were built in Britain, then shipped to the McDonnell Douglas factory in St Louis to be assembled and delivered. Thus it appeared the deal was brokered between the US and Spain, and political honour was satisfied. In Spain, the aircraft were called Matadors and operated from the airfield at Rota and the aircraft carrier Dédalo, formerly the USS Cabot (CVL-58). In 1980 BAE sold a second batch of five single seaters directly to Spain without difficulty or political repercussion.

In March 1983, the Spanish Government signed an order with McDonnell Douglas for 12 AV-8Bs, making the country the first overseas customer for the Harrier II. The aircraft were powered by the Pegasus 11-21 Mk 152-42 with 21,450lb (9730 kg) thrust and known as EAV-8Bs to the manufacturer but designated as VA-2 Matador II in Spain. The first aircraft were delivered on October 6, 1987 to the Naval Air Station at Rota and were purchased to serve on board the new Spanish aircraft carrier.

Named the Príncipe de Asturias, this was fitted with a ski-jump and cleared for Harrier operations in July 1989, the Dédalo having been retired in 1988. The 12 EAV-8Bs were all allocated to 9a Escuadrilla which was was formed on September 29, 1987 to become part of the Alpha Carrier Air Group. In March 1993, Spain ordered eight more AV-8Bs, this time the Harrier II Plus radar equipped version of the aircraft, as well as a single example of the TAV-8B two seat trainer. This contract was extended in 2000 when Boeing and the Naval Air Systems Command agreed to modify 11 of the original EAV-8Bs to Harrier II Plus standard with the addition of the radar, new avionics and an uprated engine. The new build and modified aircraft are both powered by the Pegasus 11-61 or F402-RR-408 of 23,800lb (10,795kg) thrust and can carry the AIM-120 AMRAAM air to air missile. The first new build aircraft were delivered to ➤ Rota in 1996 and later were deployed as part of the NATO forces participating in Operation Deny Flight over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Royal Thai Navy

The Spanish Navy negotiated a deal with the Royal Thai Navy in 1992 for seven of its original fleet of single seat AV-8As and two of the two seat TAV-8As. The aircraft were operated from the light aircraft carrier HTMS Chakri Naruebet, which was built in Spain by IZAR and delivered in August 1997. The Thai Harrier pilots were trained in the US during 1995, then converted on to the AV-8A at Rota in Spain during 1996. The aircraft are all operated by 1 Squadron, part of the First Air Wing and are based at U-Tapao. In order to delay any problems with acquiring spares for the aircraft, as the same time as it purchased the Spanish aircraft, the Thai Government also bought a number of ex-US Marine Corps AV-8As from storage.

The entire fleet of nine Spanish aircraft were delivered during 1996 and 1997, and remain in service today. The aircraft are no longer known as Matadors, the Thai Navy adopting the original name of Harrier.

Indian Navy

The Indian Navy was interested in the Sea Harrier to form the air wing of its aircraft carrier INS Vikrant (the former HMS Hercules). In 1983, six Sea Harrier FRS.51s and two Harrier T.60s were ordered, both powered by the Pegasus 11 Mk 151 with 21,500lb (9752 kg) thrust. The FRS.51 was identical to the FRS.1 with the exception of some avionics and other detail changes, including the ability to fire the Matra Magic air to air missile. The T.60 was the equivalent of the RAF’s Harrier T.4. The first three FRS.51s were delivered by a direct ferry flight from the UK, covering 4800 miles from Dunsfold to land at Goa, the home of 300 Naval Air Squadron (NAS) of the Indian Navy. A further 10 FRS.51s were ordered in 1985, along with another two T.60s, the last of this order being delivered in 1991. Due to the high accident rate experienced in service, a further seven FRS.51s were ordered in 1991 and delivered during 1992. The INS Vikrant was retired from service and scrapped, being replaced by the INS Viraat, which was fitted with a ski-jump in 1991. INS Viraat was formerly HMS Hermes, of Falklands War fame. Lastly, in 2002, another two T.60 aircraft were delivered, having been modified from two former RAF T.4s and designated as T.4Is by BAE. Israeli Aircraft Industries has begun an upgrade to 15 of the Indian Navy’s Sea Harriers. This includes fitting the Elta EL/M-2032 radar and ability to carry the Rafael ‘Derby’ medium range air to air missile. It is intended that the Sea Harrier will remain in service until beyond 2012, after which it will be steadily replaced by the MiG-29K carrier fighter which will operate from the new aircraft carriers it is planning to acquire. Currently, the entire Indian fleet of Harriers is operated by 300 NAS, known as the White Tigers.

Italian Navy

In 1968, Hawker Siddeley demonstrated the Harrier to the Italian Navy on board the helicopter carrier Andrea Doria, piquing Italian interest in acquiring the aircraft.

Strangely, an Italian law of 1937 prevented this acquisition, as fixed wing aircraft were solely the responsibility of the Italian Air Force, the Navy were forbidden to operate anything except helicopters. It was not until this law was repealed in 1989 that the Navy was able to pursue its interest any further. During the late 1980s, both the Sea Harrier and AV-8B were the subject of a prolonged evaluation by the service.

In May 1989, this resulted in an initial order for two TAV-8Bs, but built to Harrier II Plus standards with the Pegasus 11-61 or F402-RR-408 engine of 23,800lb (10,795kg) thrust. These two aircraft were delivered to the Primo Gruppo Aereo Marina Militare at Grottaglie in August 1991, and were used for proving flights on various Italian ships, including the aircraft carrier Guiseppe Garibaldi. While these first trainer aircraft were being built in the US, a contract was negotiated for a further 16 AV-8B Harrier II Plus single seat radar equipped fighters. The first three of these were built in the US, the rest were assembled in Italy by Alenia Aeronautica from kits supplied by Boeing. The first three single seaters were delivered in 1994 to MCAS Cherry Point, where Italian navy pilots underwent conversion training. In January 1995, the Italian Navy Harriers conducted a three month deployment to Somalia as part of a stabilisation force following the UN withdrawal from that country. During the mission, the Harriers flew reconnaissance and other sorties from the Guiseppe Garibaldi and maintained a 100% availability rate, an impressive reliability record.