Vertical Dreams

The Hawker Harrier At 50

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(Matt Hale)
"Although I had spent many years as a photographer staring at countless Harriers," writes Tim McLelland in his new book Harrier, "the aircraft takes on a rather different appearance when one is about to go flying in it. Up close, the Harrier isn't quite as sleek and slippery as it looks when it races past the crowds at an air show. In fact, the Harrier is quite a portly aircraft—essentially a pair of huge, gaping air intakes accompanied by a sharply downward-raked wing and a strangely-contoured fuselage featuring all manner of ugly bumps and protuberances."

In his new book, McLelland takes a look at the Hawker Harrier, one of the most advanced and versatile airplanes of the post-war era.

In this photo: The Fleet Air Arm's Harrier T8 fleet adopted the RAF's all-black "high visibility" paint scheme, although national insignia were applied to a "toned down" red and blue style. Click on the images above to see more photographs from the book.

Adapted from Harrier, by Tim McLelland (Ian Allan Publishing, 2011). Text and images reprinted with the publisher's permission.

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(Matt Hale)
The first AV-8Bs entered U.S. Marine Corps service in January 1985 when VMA-331 retired its A-4 Skyhawks. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Britain was also preparing to introduce its own version of this second-generation Harrier. The TAV-8B is essentially a standard B-Model with a redesigned nose section, accommodating a second raised cockpit and a slightly larger fin area. The fuselage was also increased in length by some 3 feet, 11 inches, and this made an extended tail boom unnecessary. (TAV-8B layout diagram.)

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(Matt Hale)
"The Harrier serves many different roles within the United States Marine Corps," says Captain Nicholas Dimitruck in Harrier, "but it is primarily used as an air-to-surface weapons platform.... Other missions that the Harrier can support include Air Interdiction, Armed Reconnaissance, Strike Coordination and Reconnaissance, Air-to-Air, Anti-Air warfare and Forward Air Controller."

Pictured here is the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II, 164140/WH-14, VMA-542, U.S. Marine Corps. Upper surfaces of wings and fuselage spine in FS.36118; fuselage sides and top of horizontal tail surfaces in FS.36231, undersides in FS.36320. Markings and lettering in dark grey; fin in dark grey with yellow motif. '14' repeated on top of fin.

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(Matt Hale)
The first production Harrier (XV738) took to the air for the first time on December 28, 1967, flown by Duncan Simpson. A contract for 60 aircraft, designated Harrier GR.Mk.1 (GR signifying the Ground-Attack and Reconnaissance roles) powered by the 19,000 lb Pegasus 6 was drafted in February 1966, with a go-ahead for production given later that year before the contract was finalized early in 1967. By August 1967, all six Harrier development aircraft were flying and plans were already being made to improve the aircraft's performance even before it had settled into RAF service.

Harrier XV742 aboard HMS Blake's tiny helicopter deck during trials in 1968.

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(Matt Hale)
HMS Hermes, with RAF Harriers ready to embark on missions over the Falklands, carrying Paveway laser-guided weapons and cluster bombs. The Sea Harrier is armed with a pair of Sidewinders.

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(Matt Hale)
QinetiQ's VAAC (Vectored Thrust Aircraft Advanced Flight Control) Harrier pictured during carrier trials. Although equipped with modified systems, the aircraft remained externally unchanged as the T2 second prototype and was the oldest active British Harrier. XW175 ended operations in support of systems development for the F-35 program in 2009, although the aircraft remains in storage at Boscombe Down, and may be used for further testing.

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(Lance Cpl. Sean Dennison)
"The most important and often most perilous portion of VSTOL flight is transitioning from wing-borne flight to jet-borne flight," says U.S. Marine Corps Captain Nicholas Dimitruck. "It is a careful balancing act as we pass through speeds that, should we not be riding a column of air, would make any other aircraft drop out of the sky."

Approaching the hover during deployment to MCAS Yuma, an AV-8B from VMA-214 "Black Sheep." The unit first acquired the AV-8B in 1989. Unusually, the unit's familiar ram's head motif is not carried on the nose.

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(Matt Hale)
AV-8B Plus releasing a shower of flares from its ALE-29 dispensers.

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(Matt Hale)
A Harrier pictured firing CRV-7 rockets. Each pod housed 19 rounds, fitted with high-explosive or armour-piercing warheads. With a high-impact speed, the rockets could be launched from a range of up to three miles.

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(Matt Hale)
Pilot's-eye view of a Harrier mission from the rear seat of a T12. The Head-Up Display confirms the aircraft's height (1,300 feet), and speed (355 knots).

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(Matt Hale)
All aboard for the last time: 16 Harriers from Cottesmore assemble over Lincolnshire to commemorate the Harrier's withdrawal. Sadly, the flypast was scrubbed on the official day of retirement because of poor weather. The site where Harriers were once prepared for test-flying is now better known as a studio for the BBC's "Top Gear" television program. Cottesmore said farewell to the very last Harriers early in 2011.

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(Matt Hale)
Harrier sunset: A Harrier GR9 makes a late afternoon approach at RAF Cottesmore, just days before the type was withdrawn from RAF service. "It might be imagined that the Harrier and its revolutionary abilities were simply an interesting, but ultimately pointless, episode in Britain's military history, but this would be a clumsy misunderstanding of the Harrier's contribution," writes Tim McLelland. "Through the long, dark years of the Cold War, Britain relied upon deterrence to stay alive. Deterrence relied upon credibility, particularly the ability to demonstrate that the U.K. had the will and the means to defend itself. The Harrier was fundamental to this posture."