Forty-five years ago, in 1966, the Royal Air Force ordered its first Hawker Siddeley Harrier, the GR 1, and few who were living at the time would have imagined the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) Harrier would still be serving more than four decades later. The U.S. Marine Corps, always innovative, lobbied strongly for the Harrier as perfectly suiting its needs, and the result was the AV-8A, followed in the 1980s by the Harrier II, produced by a partnership between McDonnell Douglas (later to become part of Boeing) and British Aerospace (now BAE Systems). Along with the Royal Air Force and U.S. Marine Corps, the first-generation Harrier flew for the Spanish navy, Royal Thai navy, Indian navy, and most famously for the Royal Navy, which used their specially adapted, but few, Sea Harriers to win against a vastly superior Argentinean force in the Falklands conflict. Today the second-generation Harrier serves the Royal Air Force, U.S. Marines, and Italian and Spanish navies as they await arrival of the next “jump jet” – the F-35B.
The Harrier Jump Jet: 45 Years | Photos
An AV-8B Harrier jet lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5). The STOVL Harrier, able to operate from amphibious assault ships, roadways, or pierced steel runways close to the front lines, suits the needs of the U.S. Marine Corps perfectly. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Kelling A U.S. Marine Corps Hawker Siddeley AV-8A Harrier aircraft from Marine Attack Squadron VMA-513 "Flying Nightmares" in flight in 1974. U.S. Marine Corps photo A flight deck crewman signals to the pilot of an AV-8A Harrier aircraft for takeoff from the amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4) in 1982. The aircraft was assigned to Marine Light Attack Squadron 231 (VMA-231). DoD photo by JOC James R. Giusti Two Marine Attack Squadron 513 (VMA-513) AV-8A Harrier aircraft. The Marine Corps tested its Harriers against Phantoms and other aircraft in air to air combat and came away convinced the Harrier was a capable fighter platform. Unlike the RAF's first generation Harriers, Marine Corps Harriers were equipped to carry and fire Sidewinder missiles from the beginning. DoD photo by Lt. Brown A U.S. Marine Corps Hawker Siddeley AV-8C Harrier (BuNo 158384) from Marine Attack Squadron VMA-513 Flying Nightmares takes off vertically from an Austin-class amphibious transport dock ship in 1982. DoD photo An RAF Harrier GR 3 of 233 Operational Conversion Unit in the hover. The distinctive aardvark nose of the GR 3 is due to the Ferranti 106 laser ranger/marked target spotter (LRMTS). The LRMTS could be locked onto a target to provide continuous updates on position and rate of closure via the onboard laser, or could lock onto a target being illuminated by ground troops with a laser designator. Some specially modified GR 3s served aboard Royal Navy carriers during the Falklands war. A Spanish AV-8S/VA. 1 "Matador" aircraft in flight over the Spanish aircraft carrier Dedalo (R01), below. The AV-8S Matador was essentially an AV-8A with different radios fitted, and flew from the steel-sheathed wooden flight deck of Dedalo (ex-USS Cabot) until the Principe de Asturias, adapted from a U.S. "Sea Control Ship" design, entered the Spanish fleet. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. John Leenhouts A British Royal Navy FRS. MK 1 Sea Harrier aircraft hovers over the flight deck of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69). Another Sea Harrier approaches in the background. Faced with the end of fast jets in naval aviation due to the forced retirement of their conventional carriers, the Royal Navy modified the Harrier with a radar, redesigned cockpit with advanced avionics, and provision for air to air and anti-ship missiles among other weapons. The result proved beyond all doubt that the subsonic, STOVL Sea Harrier could more than hold its own against conventional jet fighters. The "SHAR" compiled a record of 23 Argentinean aircraft shot down without loss in air to air combat. DoD photo An Indian navy FRS MK 51 Sea Harrier lands on the flight deck of the Indian aircraft carrier INS Viraat (R 22) during Exercise Malabar 07-2. The Indian navy was the only export customer for the Sea Harrier, receiving 23, and still operates the type. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dustin Q. Diaz A Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II, assigned to the “Blacksheep” of Marine Attack Squadron Two One Four (VMA-214), taxis down the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5) in 2005. The Harrier II certainly improved on the first-generation Harrier, with a bigger, more efficient wing and other additions, such as a radar added later, but remained faithful to the basic design. The supercritical wing and use of composites where possible in the structure enabled the AV-8B to carry 70 percent more ordnance and carry 50 percent more internal fuel. U.S. Navy photo by Journalist 2nd Class Zack Baddorf Four Sea Harrier FA 2s of 801 Naval Air Squadron, based at RNAS Yeovilton, are shown flying in formation. The FA 2 was lengthened with a fuselage plug, and the fine contours of the nose were broken up with the bulbous radome of the new Blue Vixen radar, but what was lost in aesthetics was made up for in the capabilities of the radar and ability to employ AIM-120 AMRAAMs. The Royal Navy retired its FA 2s early as a cost saving measure, leaving its carriers without organic airborne air defense. UK Ministry of Defense photo by LA(PHOT) Bunting U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft from Marine Attack Squadron 513 (VMA-513), Yuma Marine Corps Air Base, Ariz., fly in formation during Operation Desert Shield. DoD photo by SSGT Scott Stewart The Harrier was always an aircraft that required time in a trainer before pilots could fly a single-seater, but Harrier trainers of both generations have always had an odd sort of beauty. Here a flight deck crew member signals to the pilot of an Italian TAV-8B Harrier II aircraft aboard the Italian navy's aircraft carrier Guiseppe Garibaldi (C-551) as the aircraft takes part in vertical/short takeoff and landing operations. The Italian vessel was taking part in the joint exercise Dragon Hammer '92. U.S. Navy photo by PHC Jack C. Bahm The USS Bonhomme Richard's then-Commanding Officer, Capt. Stan V. DeGeus, from Philadelphia, Pa., watches an AV-8B Harrier hover within feet of the bridge window. Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) was part of the seven-ship Amphibious Task Force West (ATF-W) deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Staci M. Bitzer An AV-8B Harrier II aircraft from the Spanish aircraft carrier Principe de Asturias (R 11) prepares to land after a live-fire exercise as part of a passing exercise with ships assigned to Standing NATO Maritime Group Two (SNMG-2) at the Balearic Sea Feb. 23, 2007. The Spanish navy has operated both AV-8A Harriers (Matadors) and AV-8B Harrier IIs, later upgraded to Harrier II Plus standard. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Leonardo Carrillo A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier, showing its lineage from the original first generation Harrier, prepares to land aboard HMS Illustrious during joint training. The U.S. Marine Corps and Royal Navy were alike in their appreciation of the Harrier's capabilities and development of the aircraft. DoD photo by Richard Osial Two RAF GR 7 Harriers of Joint Force Harrier (now Joint Strike Wing) conduct a flypast of HMS Illustrious during Exercise Joint Warrior 2008. As the UK cut budgets, it created a joint Harrier force for the Royal Navy's Invincible-class carriers comprised of Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Sea Harriers and Harriers, respectively, until the Sea Harriers, too, were removed from service. The result eventually was at least one Royal Navy squadron flying RAF Harriers. UK Ministry of Defense photo by LA(Phot) Des Wade An AV-8B Harrier jet with Marine Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211), takes on fuel during its trip from Yuma, Az. to Okinawa, Japan in support of theater security in the Asia- Pacific region. DoD photo by Capt. Tim Otten A U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier flies alongside a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 Hercules after receiving in flight refueling during a training mission over the Sonoran Desert, Ariz., Oct. 21, 2010. Today the Harrier, a 1960s platform, delivers 21st century precision munitions. U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl Benjamin R. Reynolds An AV-8B Harrier II performs at the Oceana air show in 2011. With the impending arrival of the F-35B Lightning II, the venerable, pioneering Harrier's days may finally be numbered. Photo by Brielle Lewis