I have seen many impressive military jets around the world and not even the F-22 Raptor or the latest F-35 Lightning impressed me more than the Harrier Jump Jet. I have been privileged to see all three these jets perform on the same day and the same place and even with its 1960s technology, the Harrier blew my breath away. It is certainly one of Man's greatest inventions.
Designed and first manufactured in the early 1960's by British company Hawker Siddeley, the first Harrier was first flown on 28 December 1967, then still known as the Hawker Siddeley Harrier. Introduced to the market on 1 April 1969, it soon became one of the world's most successful strike aircraft.
After the initial success of the aircraft, both English and American manufacturers started manufacturing and flying variants of the original design, labeled the P.1127.
The first variation, the British Aerospace Sea Harrier, was used as a naval air defense striker in the Royal Navy. During the 1980's, the second variation was manufactured in the USA as the AV-8B and in UK as the British Aerospace Harrier II and by 2001 it had completely replaced the original and the Sea Harrier.
What makes the Harrier so special is its ability to operate from small, constricted spaces such as car parks or small aircraft carriers. Being the only truly successful Vertical Takeoff And Landing (VTOL) aircraft in the world, it is ideal for situations that call from some improvisation. It can take off and land vertically, or can get away with very small takeoff and landing strips. This is achieved through a complex system of reaction control valves that, through a high-pressure compressor in the engine, push and direct jets of air through the nose, tail and wingtips of the aircraft. This allows for thrust-borne flight.
Crewed by one pilot only (even though 2-seater training versions are available), the Harrier can only take off vertically if not at its maximum loaded weight, thus needing a small short runway or on aircraft carriers in the form of a ski-jump ramp, if loaded to the max at 14,100kg.
The last version produced, the AV-8B+ Harrier, has a wingspan of 9.25m, stands 3.56m high, takes up 14.5m in lengths and can reach a maximum speed of 1 065km/h. It is powered by a single Rolls-Royce Pegasus turbofan engine and unlike the rest of jets designed and built in the 60s; the Harrier is a subsonic jet as it has no afterburner.
Between 1967 and 2003, 824 Harriers were produced and used to take part in light attacks, Harriers were eventually part of the defense force of 6 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Thailand, Spain and Italy.
Used as a close-support and reconnaissance fighter, the RAF positioned Harriers in West Germany to keep a close eye out for potential invaders. The United States Marine Corps operated Harriers from amphibious assault ships. It was however criticized for being involved in a high number of accidents and was expensive to run and maintain. Thus, it was replaced by the F-35 lightning II in the USA in 2015, with the F35B in the UK in 2010 and in India, their 11 Sea Harriers were replaced by the Mikoyan MiG-29K in 2016.
The first ever Harrier to be sold into private hands happened in 2005 when aviation enthusiast and retired military pilot, Art Nalls bought a 1980 Sea Harrier in the UK. After being shipped to the US and restored over 2 years, Nalls successfully flew the only privately owned Harrier from Maryland on 10 November 2007.
Art Nalls at AirVenture 2010
In 2014 a Harrier was sold to a private collector at an auction in the UK for a staggering £105,800 - just under R2,000,000! Restored by a former RAF engineer, the Harrier was said to be in near perfect condition, with an original interior, and since its last flight was stored for 22 years in a heated room to ensure no corrosion or damage took place. It was however only sold for display purposes and will never fly again.