The Hawker Siddeley Harrier was the only successful fighter/attack/reconnaissance aircraft with V/STOL capability to emerge from the design studies of the 1950s for a fixed-wing vertical take-off aircraft. As such, it was the operational outcome of the Hawker P1127 and Hawker Siddeley Kestrel development aircraft, the design of which by Sir Sydney Camm and Ralph Hooper of Hawker Aviation and Stanley Hooker of the Bristol Engine Company began in 1957 and was predicated on a revolutionary new turbofan engine, the Pegasus, to provide vectored thrust.
The P1127, of which six were produced, achieved a first vertical take-off on 21st October 1960 with test pilot Bill Bedford at the controls. Development of the aircraft moved rapidly to the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel which first flew on 7th March 1964. A year later, all nine Kestrels built were allocated to a unique ‘tripartite’squadron at RAF West Raynham for evaluation by RAF, US and Luftwaffe pilots. In 1965, with the cancellation of a proposed supersonic version, the P1154, the RAF was left to consider an upgrade of the Kestrel (the P1127 (RAF)) and the following year ordered 60 production aircraft. The Harrier was born.
The Harrier GR1 first flew on 28th December 1967 and entered service with the RAF on 1st April 1969. Other variants followed with the GR1A and then GR3 for the RAF, and the Sea Harrier FRS1 for the Royal Navy which entered service in 1978. Both aircraft took part in the Falklands War with the GR3 operating as the main ground attack force from HMS Hermes and the Sea Harriers employed primarily in the air defence role from HMS Invincible. Later versions of the Harrier and Sea Harrier saw operational service in former Yugoslavia, and the Harrier was extensively deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Sea Harrier was withdrawn from Royal Navy service in 2006. All UK aircraft are now operated as ‘Joint Force Harrier’ comprising four operational squadrons (two RAF and two RN) based at RAF Cottesmore with a small conversion unit at RAF Wittering. Operations in Afghanistan continue. Replacement of the GR7 by the fully upgraded GR9 is a major programme designed to significantly enhance capability and see the aircraft through to 2018.
The Harrier has also been extensively developed for use by the US Marines as the AV-8, with several variants having been produced. Export versions of the AV-8 were built for the Spanish Navy and subsequently sold on to the Royal Thai Navy. The Indian Navy acquired a fleet of 30 Sea Harriers in 1983, albeit 17 have since been lost to accidents.
Harrier GR3 XV744 is owned by the Museum. Sea Harrier ZA591, the prototype FRS2 Sea Harrier is on permanent loan to the Museum.