The Museum’s Sea Harrier, XZ459, was a Falklands War veteran which, as an FRS1, served with No 800 Naval Air Squadron aboard HMS Hermes in the South Atlantic. During the conflict, the aircraft completed 49 Combat Air Patrol (CAP) missions and 4 bombing sorties and was flown by Lieutenant Commander ‘Gordy’ Batt DSC on the first operational sortie of the war on 1 May 1982, the one where the BBC’s Brian Hanrahan, “counted them all out and counted them all back”. In addition to this operation, it is known that XZ459, took part on 16 May in a bombing attack on the Rio Carcarana, an Argentinian supply ship off Port King in Falkland Sound which caused the crew to abandon ship.
Many of the No 800 squadron pilots flew XZ459 in the South Atlantic including Mike Blissett, Neil Thomas, ‘Fred’ Fredericksen, David Morgan, Martin Hale, Andy George, Clive Morrell, David Smith and the squadron’s commanding officer Andy Auld.
After the Falkland’s War XZ459 served with both Fleet Air Arm operational Sea Harrier squadrons (Nos 800 and 801) and with No 899, the Sea Harrier training unit. In January 1994 the aircraft was converted at Dunsfold to FA2 standard and then served with the operational squadrons until April 2002. In 2007 Chris Wilson, MD of Jet Art Aviation, purchased the aircraft from the MoD and restored it to static display condition before selling it on to a private owner. The Museum purchased the aircraft in 2020.
Top – Sea Harrier FA2 XZ459 shortly after arrival at Tangmere in 2020 (Pete Pitman)
Middle Left – Sea Harrier FRS1 XZ459 leaving Portsmouth on board HMS Hermes bound for the South Atlantic, April 1982 (Hugh Trevor)
Middle Right – Sea Harrier FRS1 XZ459 of 800 NAS in 1980 (Hugh Trevor)
Bottom Left & Right – Sea Harrier FRS1 XZ459 of 899 NAS in 1983 (Hugh Trevor)