In honor of the Hawker Siddley Harrier’s first flight on April 1, 1969 , I present you with the latest edition of our ongoing “Warbirds” series.
The Harrier, as most people consider it, is actually a family of aircraft. The first and only operational family of jump jets ever developed. The main versions of the family in order of development are the Hawker Siddeley Harrier, British Aerospace Sea Harrier, Boeing/BAE Systems AV-8B Harrier II, and BAE Systems/Boeing Harrier II. Initial work began on the series as early as 1957 in cooperation between airframe maker Hawker Aircraft and engine manufacturer Bristol Engine Company on the project P.1127.
What came from this project was a fixed-wing aircraft that absolutely embodies the spirit of aviation innovation. First operational jump jet. First capable of hovering. First to fly backwards (WHAT!).
When you think of the Harrier, the first thing that comes to mind is often the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in 1982. Deep in the South Pacific and over 8,000 moles from home, the Harrier saw her first combat in some of the world’s worst flying conditions. While deployed, Harriers flew over 2000 sorties – over six per aircraft per day. though 10 Harriers of various types were lost to ground fire or mechanical failure, none were lost in air-to-air combat.
After the war, the first generation of Harriers saw continued Cold War tasking, but declining service with British and American forces.
Most of the continuing production was earmarked for export to NATO and allied countries. But, this wasn’t because of any failings. Rapid advances in avionics, navigation, and propulsion would give birth to a next generation of jump jet. A new partnership between McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace would soon bring the world the Harrier II. These aircraft serve still today and have seen combat during the Gulf War, Yugoslavia, the Iraq War and Afghanistan. Though slated to be replaced by the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II, the Harrier II still serves the USMC, British armed forces (G-5/7/9 series), Spanish Navy, and Italian Navy.
UPDATE: 2012 America suffers greatest aircraft loss since Vietnam when Afghan terrorists breach security at Camp Bastion; destroying 6 USMC Harriers and damaging 2 more. In addition, 2 Marines and 9 Nato personnel lost their lives.