The world's first operational V/STOL strike fighter.
Great innovations has always been at the heart of the aviation industry and the story of VSTOL shows just what can be achieved by great men.
The Harrier story contains 3 such great men...
Sydney Camm was born in Windsor in 1893 and was responsible for such engineering achievements as the Hawker Hurricane and Hawker Hunter. Camm was infamous for his ‘one-track mind and did not suffer fools gladly’. As Hawker Siddeley Chief Designer during the 1950’s, he assembled the finest group of aviation engineers in the UK.
His vision and determination led the team to solve so many different problems, never even contemplated in previous aircraft design.
The youngster of the team, having been born in January 1927, Ralph Hooper was the Chief Designer of the project. He led the team during a period when a large proportion of traditional aircraft ventures were either being cancelled or abandoned.
However, the privately-funded design of the Hawker Harrier emerged in 1958, and subsequently drew the production of a General Operational Requirement (GOR) for a vertical take-off aircraft, and the issue of a full specification in 1959.
50-year-old Stanley Hooker from Bristol-Siddeley, was responsible for the power of the P1127 / Kestrel FGA, and along with aero-engine designer Gordon Lewis.
He was predominantly responsible for the creation of the Pegasus engine and its potential use in a vectored-thrust project. Bristol Siddeley had merged with Rolls-Royce Ltd in 1968, and although Hooker had retired a year earlier, he remained a consultant during the further development of the Harrier.
When the Hawker P.1127 prototype (XP831) made its first tethered ‘hovering flight’ on October 21st 1960, it started a revolution in British military aviation technology that is yet to be matched.
Within just a few short months, the first prototype (XP831) and a second prototype (XP836) would prove that British technological 'know-how' could realise a dream that had eluded many other manufacturers around the world: To produce a practical fixed-wing aircraft with the ability to take-off and land vertically, just like a helicopter, whilst retaining the speed and manoeuvrability of a modern, front-line combat aircraft.
During the 1960s, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier or ‘Jump-Jet’ became the world’s only true VSTOL aircraft (vertical and / or short take-off and landing).
The story of the Harrier however, really begins with the P.1127 back in the latter part of the 1950’s.
'Hawker aeroplanes are always beautiful, nothing wrong with that ... but we are not going to bother with all that - Vertical first time!'
Sydney Camm - 1960
Sydney Camm and Ralph Hooper of Hawker Siddeley joined with Stanley Hooker of Bristol Aero Engine Company, to begin the initial development and design of the P.1127 way back in 1957. Their aim was to utilise the Bristol Pegasus vectored-thrust engine and to explore its potential for vertical take-off.
Hawker P1127 first tethered flight 1960
Testing finally began in July 1960, and by the end of the year the prototype P.1127 (XP831) had achieved both vertical take-off and horizontal flight. That first ‘Tethered flight’ was achieved on 21st October 1960 at Dunsfold Aerodrome and the ‘free-flight’ followed within just one month. Both flights were in the expert, and very brave hands of Chief Test Pilot, Bill Bedford.
A second prototype (XP836) made its first, conventional runway take-off from Dunsfold in July 1961, and with the involvement of XP831 Engineers, Designers and Test Pilots. Hawker Siddeley soon refined the engineering and the techniques needed for controlled vertical take-off which was finally achieved in September of that year.
Four more P.1127 aircraft were produced to enhance pilot familiarisation, and the further development of the Bristol Pegasus engine. The test program also investigated the potential for landing aircraft on naval carriers and the first successful touchdown on HMS Ark Royal was achieved in 1963.
The last of the initial prototypes (XP984) was fitted with the Bristol Pegasus 5 power unit and it was this airframe that eventually became the first Hawker Kestrel prototype.
In addition to the more powerful engine, the Hawker Kestrel varied from the early P.1127's in so far as it featured fully swept wings and a larger tail.
Nine aircraft were built for assessment by the Tri-partite Evaluation Squadron (T.E.S) which was made up of six pilots from Britain and two each from the United States and West Germany.
The first Kestrel FGA1 in colours of the Tripartite Evaluation...
The first Hawker Kestrel flew on 7th March 1964 and by the time the evaluation was complete in November 1965, a total of 960 sorties had been made including 1,366 take-offs and landings.
Developed initially as an operational, close-support and reconnaissance fighter aircraft, the Harrier evolved directly from the Hawker P.1127 and the subsequent Hawker Kestrel F.G.A.1 prototype aircraft.
During 1965, Hawker Siddeley's supersonic aircraft (Hawker P.1154) had been cancelled by the incoming Labour government and so all work at Kingston had ceased. The Ministry then issued Requirement ASR384 for a V/STOL Ground attack Aircraft, supplemented by an immediate order for 6 pre-production developments of the Kestrel. These were to be known as the Hawker P.1127 RAF. The design was more closely based on the lessons learnt with the early Hawker Kestrel prototypes and following successful trials, the first aircraft flew on 31st August 1966.
Within a year, the RAF ordered 60 aircraft into production, all to be named Hawker Harrier GR.1.
The first RAF Squadron to be equipped with the Hawker Harrier GR.1 was RAF No.1 Squadron at RAF Wittering, who when they received their aircraft in April 1969, signalled the beginning of over four decades of RAF Service.
Four Harrier GR1s of the then newly-formed 20 Squadron fly in i...
A demonstration of the Hawker Harrier's capabilities was exhibited in May 1969, when two aircraft took part in the Daily Mail Transatlantic Air Race, flying between St Pancras Railway Station in London and Downtown Manhattan in the USA (with the use of air-to-air refuelling). The Hawker Harrier completed the journey in just 6 hours and 11 minutes.
The Hawker Harrier would then go on to serve with distinction with UK military forces, and with several nations worldwide, especially as a carrier-based aircraft. In service with the RAF, the Hawker Harrier was strategically positioned throughout Europe with the bulk of the fleet stationed in West Germany, to defend against a potential invasion of Western Europe by the Warsaw Pact forces.
The Hawker Harrier’s unique abilities allowed the RAF to disperse forces away from vulnerable airbases, often hidden in wooded areas, whilst on exercises or on genuine deployment. Additionally, Hawker Harrier Squadrons saw several deployments overseas demonstrating the aircraft’s ability to operate with minimal ground facilities. It's ability to utilise short runways allowed its use at locations not available to conventional fixed-wing military aircraft and brought a completely new dimension to battle planning.
British Aerospace Harrier II / McDonnell Douglas AV8-B
During the 1980s, the Hawker Harrier saw further development as a joint-venture between British Aerospace at Dunsfold & Kingston and the McDonnell Douglas Corporation in the USA.
The aircraft featured an elevated cockpit for better all-round visibility, revised engine intakes and exhausts, together with much improved avionics. By far, the most significant improvement was the use of composites in the one-piece wing, which reduced the overall weight whilst increasing the payload capacity.
McDonnell Douglas AV-8B
The U.S. Marine Corps used their Harriers (known as AV-8B Harrier II) primarily for 'Day and Night Close-Air Support' operations. In the UK, the RAF took delivery of Hawker Harrier II GR5, GR7, GR7a, GR9 and GR9a variants featuring increased thrust, improved avionics and increased weapons capability.
The history and heritage relating to the US built AV-8B aircraft is morally the domain of the McDonnell-Douglas and further information can be obtained here.
British Aerospace Sea Harrier
The British Aerospace (BAe) Sea Harrier was informally known as the ‘Shar’ . It was a naval short take-off / vertical landing / vertical take-off jet fighter, predominantly used in a reconnaissance or attack aircraft role.
Previously in 1963, the Hawker Siddeley P1127 had landed on HMS Ark Royal and it was some 15-years later that the specifically designed ‘Navalised-Harrier’ prototype, finally took to the air over Dunsfold on 20th August 1978.
Utilising the vectored-thrust technology developed during the 1960s as part of the P1127 / Kestrel / Harrier program, the BAe Sea Harrier provided a unique vertical short take-off / landing (V/STOL) capability whilst operating from aircraft carriers at sea.
Sea Harrier FRS Mk2 RN XZ497
The Royal Navy had already pre-ordered 24 aircraft, based on the results being achieved by the RAF with the Hawker Harrier GR1. By the time of the first flight, this order had been increased to 34 aircraft.
The BAe Sea Harrier FRS1 entered service with the Royal Navy in April 1980, during an era in which most naval and land-based air superiority fighters were large and supersonic. The principal role of the subsonic BAe Sea Harrier was to provide air defence for naval aircraft carriers and surface ships around the world.
The BAe Sea Harrier saw service distinction during the Falklands Conflict of 1982, as well as during both of the Gulf Wars (1990-1991 & 2003-2011) the Balkans conflict and Sierra Leone. On all occasions, the Sea Harriers mainly operated from aircraft carriers positioned within the conflict zones.
The usage in the Falklands was probably the most high profile and important success recorded by the aircraft 'in theatre' where it was the only fixed-wing fighter available to protect the British Task Force. Flying off of HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes, the BAe Sea Harriers defeated 20 enemy aircraft during the encounter, with just one being lost to enemy ground fire.
Despite a vigorous marketing campaign by British Aerospace, the BAe Sea Harrier only saw customer sales to India, despite enormous interest from the military authorities of both Argentina and Australia.
In 1993, an updated version was developed for the Royal Navy (Sea Harrier FA2) featuring a more powerful engine, a much improved weapon systems and enhanced air-to-air capabilities. Despite this, the aircraft was said to be outdated and manufacturing of the BAe Sea Harrier ceased in 1998, with the last aircraft retiring from Royal Naval service in 2006.
The end of an era
Sadly, the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) of July 1998, was to signal the end of the UK’s military involvement with the much-loved Hawker / Bae Harrier. This along with the subsequent ‘early retirement’ of the Royal Navy BAe Sea Harriers (between 2004 and 2006) saw all remaining aircraft consolidated by the RAF into ‘The Harrier Force’. This was a short-lived program however, and it was superseded by yet another Strategic Defence Review published on 19th October 2010. This announced ‘the early retirement’ of the Harrier Force aircraft (Harrier GR7’s & GR9’s).
The Final Flypast at RAF Cottesmore
On 15th December 2010, a 16 aircraft flypast from RAF Cottesmore and Ceremonial ‘Walk of Honour’ marked the last operational flights of British Harriers, ending 41-years of service.
In the UK, the aircraft was officially withdrawn from UK military service by the RAF in March 2011.
The Harrier Story continues however...
Over 100 AV-B aircraft are still owned and operated by the US Marine Corps and these are supported not only by the BAE Systems Team at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina but also by Teams at Warton, Samlesbury and Frimley, in the UK.
Working in close collaboration with McDonnell-Douglas and Boeing, it is thought that this program will continue well into the late 2020s.
In addition, a number of EAV-8B Matador Aircraft still operate in the Spanish Air Force.
Hawker / BAe Harrier Image Gallery
Variants and Number built
Experimental V/STOL fighter
Hawker Kestrel FGA.1
Tripartite Evaluation Squadron aircraft
Hawker P.1127 (RAF)
Development V/STOL Ground attack & Reconnaissance Fighter
U.S. Designation for Kestrel FGA1
U.S. Designation for P.1127
Hawker Harrier GR.1
Production version of P.1127 (RAF)
Hawker Harrier GR.1A
Updated GR1 (engine)
Hawker Harrier GR.3
Improved sensors and tracking (in lengthened nose)
Hawker AV-8A Harrier
Single-seat ground attack and close air support
Upgraded AV-8A for US Marine Corps
MD AV-8S Matador
Export version of AV-8A for Spainish Navy (later with Royal Thai Navy) Also known as Mk53 and Mk55
Hawker Harrier T.2
Lengthened 2-seat trainer for RAF
Hawker Harrier T.2A
Upgraded T.2 (Pegasus Mk102)
Hawker Harrier T.4
2-seat trainer for the RAF (equivalent to GR.3
Hawker Harrier T4.A
T.4 without laser seeker or radar warning system (Also featured short-fin of single seater)
Hawker Harrier T.4N
2-seat trainer for Royal Navy (based on Sea Harrier FRS.1) with avionics (excluding radar)
Hawker Harrier T.4(I)
Conversion of T.4 airframes for Indian Navy.
Hawker Harrier T.8
Naval trainer fitted with Sea Harrier avionics
Hawker Harrier T.52
2 seat demonstrator variant of T.2.
Hawker Harrier T.60
Export version of T.4N for Indian Navy
MD TAV-8A Harrier
2 seat trainer for US Marine Corps (Also designated Mk54)
MD TAV-8S Matador
Export version of TAV-8A for Spanish Navy (Later sold to Royal Thai Navy)
BAe Sea Harrier FRS.1
Production aircraft - most survivors now converted to Sea Harrier FA2
BAe Sea Harrier FRS.51
Single seat fighter and reconnaissance variant for Indian Navy
BAe Sea Harrier F(A).2
Upgrade of FRS.1 fleet in 1988 with new radar and missiles
Prototype conversions of AV-8A airframe
MD AV-8B Harrier II
4 Development aircraft
162 Production aircraft
Day attack variant
MB AV-8B Harrier II NA
Night attack variant with infa-red camera and upgraded cockpit (night vision)
MD AV-8B Harrier II+
Night attack variant with new radar - Converted from existing AV-8B and new built (1993-97)
MD TAV-8B Harrier II
Two seat trainer (1986-92)
MD TAV-8B Harrier II+
Two seat trainer built for Italy (1990-91)
MD EAV-8B Matador II
Spanish Navy variant (1987-88)
MD EAV-8B Matador II+
Spanish Navy variant - Converted from EAV-8B and new built (1995-97)
BAe Harrier II GR5
2nd generation production aircraft
BAe Harrier II GR5A
Minor changes from GR5 in anticipation of GR7
BAe Harrier II GR7
Upgrade of GR5
BAe Harrier II GR7a
Uprated engine for 'hot and high' carrier-borne operations
BAe Harrier II GR9
Uprated avionics and weapons systems
BAE Harrier II GR9a
Uprated engine from GR7a and avionics and weapons from GR9
BAE Harrier II T10
Original two seat training version of Harrier II as used for basis for the design of the US Marine Trainer and the TAV-8B
BAE Harrier II T12
Uprated T10 aircraft to receive the JUMP update - Less powerful Pegasus 105 engine
Specification (Harrier GR3)
1 × Rolls-Royce Pegasus 103 turbofan with four swivelling nozzles, 21,500 lbf / 95.6 kN
25 ft 3 in / 7.70 m
25,200 lb / 11,430 kg (Take-off)
730 mph / 635 knots / 1,176 km/h at sea level
1 hr 30 min (combat air patrol – 115 mi (185 km) from base)
The information shown is based on that available at the time of the content creation. If you have any additions or corrections then please contact us via email - All images BAE Systems / Ron Smith copyright unless otherwise shown.