Hawker Harrier

Hawker Harrier

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: 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-tracked mind that did not suffer fools gladly’ and as Hawker Siddeley Chief Designer during the 1950’s, he assembled one of 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.

Ralph Hooper: The youngster of the team being born in January 1927, Hooper (Chief Designer of the project) 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 Harrier emerged in 1958 and drew the production of a General Operational Requirement (GOR) for a vertical take-off aircraft and the eventual issue of a full specification from the Ministry in 1959.

Stanley Hooker: 50 year old Stanley Hooker of Bristol-Siddeley was responsible for the power of the P1127/Kestrel FGA and along with aero-engine designer Gordon Lewis was predominantly responsible for the creation of the Pegasus engine and its use in the vectored-thrust project. Bristol Siddeley 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 1960’s, 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 P.1127

‘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 The Hawker Aircraft Company 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 engineand to explore its potential for vertical take-off.

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 a 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 refined the engineering and 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 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 Pegasus 5 power unit and it was this airframe that eventually became the first Kestrel prototype.

Hawker Kestrel

In addition to the more powerful engine, the Hawker Kestrel also 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 was made up of pilots – six from Britain and two each from the United States and West Germany).

The first 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.

Hawker Harrier

Developed initially as an operational, close-support and reconnaissance fighter aircraft, the Harrier evolved directly from the Hawker P.1127 and the subsequent Kestrel F.G.A.1 prototype aircraft.

During 1965, Hawker’s supersonic aircraft (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 P.1127 RAF. The design was more closely based on the lessons learnt with the early 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 Harrier GR.1.

The first RAF Squadron to be equipped with the Harrier GR.1 was RAF No.1 Squadron at Wittering who when they received their aircraft in April 1969 signalled the beginning of over four decades of RAF Service.

A demonstration of the 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 aerial refuelling) – The Harrier completed the journey in just 6 hours and 11 minutes.

Harrier would go on to serve with the UK military forces and with several nations worldwide, often as a carrier-based aircraft (See British Aerospace Sea Harrier). 

In service with the RAF, Harrier was strategically positioned and the bulk of the fleet were stationed in West Germany to defend against a potential invasion of Western Europe by the Warsaw Pact forces.

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.  Harrier Squadrons saw several deployments overseas as the aircraft’s ability to operate with minimal ground facilities and very 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 1980’s, the 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.

The US Marine Corps used their Harriers (known as AV-8B Harrier II) primarily for Day and Night Close-Air Support operations whilst in the UK the RAF took delivery of Harrier II GR5, GR7, GR7a, GR9 and GR9a aircraft with increased thrust, improved avionics and weapons capabilities.

 British Aerospace Sea Harrier

The Sea Harrier (informally known as the ‘Shar’) is a naval short take-off, vertical landing or vertical take-off and landing jet fighter, predominantly used is a reconnaissance or attack aircraft role. 

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 1960’s as part of the P1127 / Kestrel / Harrier program, Sea Harrier provided a unique vertical short take-off / landing (V/STOL) capability whilst at sea.

The Royal Navy had already pre-ordered 24 aircraft, based on the results being achieved by the RAF with the Harrier GR1 and by the time of the first flight this had been increased to 34 aircraft. 

The British Aerospace 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 Sea Harrier was to provide air defence for naval aircraft carriers and surface ships around the world.

The aircraft saw service distinction during the Falklands Conflict of 1982 as well as during both of the Gulf Wars and the Balkans conflict.  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’ when it was the only fixed-wing fighter available to protect the British Task Force.  Flying off of HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes, the 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 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. Manufacturing of the 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 Harrier and following the ‘early retirement’ of the Navy’s Sea Harriers between 2004 and 2006, the remaining aircraft were consolidated by the RAF into ‘The Harrier Force’.  

It 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). 

On 15th December 2010, a 16 aircraft flypast from RAF Cottesmore and Ceremonial ‘Walk of Honour’ marked the final operational flights of British Harriers and ended 41 years of service.

In the UK, the aircraft was officially withdrawn from UK military service by the RAF in March 2011.




General characteristics


  • Maximum speed: 730 mph (635 knots, 1,176 km/h) at sea level
  • Combat radius: 230 mi (200 nmi, 370 km) lo-lo-lo with 4,400 lb (2,000 kg) payload
  • Ferry range: 2,129 mi (1,850 nmi, 3,425 km)
  • Endurance: 1 hr 30 min (combat air patrol – 115 mi (185 km) from base)
  • Service ceiling: 51,200 ft (15,600 m)
  • Time to climb to 40,000 ft (12,200 m): 2 min 23 s








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