This article is about the first generation Harrier. For an overview of the Harrier family, see Harrier Jump Jet
The Hawker Siddeley Harrier, known colloquially as the "Harrier Jump Jet", was developed in the 1960s and formed the first generation of the Harrier series of aircraft. It was the first operational close-support and reconnaissance fighter aircraft with vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) capabilities and the only truly successful V/STOL design of the many that arose in that era. The Harrier was produced directly from the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel prototypes following the cancellation of a more advanced supersonic aircraft, the Hawker Siddeley P.1154. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) ordered the Harrier GR.1 and GR.3 variants in the late 1960s. It was exported to the United States as the AV-8A, for use by the US Marine Corps (USMC), in the 1970s.
The RAF positioned the bulk of their Harriers in West Germany to defend against a potential invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union; the unique abilities of the Harrier allowed the RAF to disperse their forces away from vulnerable airbases. The USMC used their Harriers primarily for close air support, operating from amphibious assault ships, and, if needed, forward operating bases. Harrier squadrons saw several deployments overseas. The Harrier's ability to operate with minimal ground facilities and very short runways allowed it to be used at locations unavailable to other fixed-wing aircraft. The Harrier received criticism for having a high accident rate and for a time-consuming maintenance process.
In the 1970s the British Aerospace Sea Harrier was developed from the Harrier for use by the Royal Navy (RN) on Invincible-class aircraft carriers. The Sea Harrier and the Harrier fought in the 1982 Falklands War, in which the aircraft proved to be crucial and versatile. The RN Sea Harriers provided fixed-wing air defence while the RAF Harriers focused on ground-attack missions in support of the advancing British land force. The Harrier was also extensively redesigned as the AV-8B Harrier II and British Aerospace Harrier II by the team of McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace. The innovative Harrier family and its Rolls-Royce Pegasus engines with thrust vectoring nozzles have generated long-term interest in V/STOL aircraft. Similar V/STOL operational aircraft include the contemporary Soviet Yakovlev Yak-38. A V/STOL variant of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is currently under development.
The Harrier's design was derived from the Hawker P.1127. Prior to developing the P.1127 Hawker Aircraft had been working on a replacement for the Hawker Hunter, the Hawker P.1121. The P.1121 was cancelled after the release of the British Government's 1957 Defence White Paper, which advocated a policy shift away from manned aircraft and towards missiles. This policy resulted in the termination of the majority of aircraft development projects then underway for the British military. Hawker sought to quickly move on to a new project and became interested in Vertical Take Off/Landing (VTOL) aircraft, which did not need runways.[N 1] According to Air Chief Marshal Sir Patrick Hine this interest may have been stimulated by the presence of Air Staff Requirement 345, which sought a V/STOL ground attack fighter for the Royal Air Force.
Design work on the P.1127 was formally started in 1957 by Sir Sydney Camm, Ralph Hooper of Hawker Aircraft and Stanley Hooker (later Sir Stanley Hooker) of the Bristol Engine Company. The close cooperation between Hawker, the airframe company, and Bristol, the engine company, was viewed by project engineer Gordon Lewis as one of the key factors that allowed the development of the Harrier to continue in spite of technical obstacles and political setbacks. Rather than using rotors or a direct jet thrust, the P.1127 had an innovative vectored thrust turbofan engine, the Pegasus. The Pegasus I was rated at 9,000 pounds (40 kN) of thrust and first ran in September 1959. A contract for two development prototypes was signed in June 1960 and the first flight followed in October 1960. Of the six prototypes built three crashed—including one during an air display at the 1963 Paris Air Show.
Hawker Siddeley XV-6A Kestrel in later USAF markings
In 1961 the United Kingdom, United States and West Germany jointly agreed to purchase nine aircraft developed from the P.1127, for the evaluation of the performance and potential of V/STOL aircraft. These aircraft were built by Hawker Siddeley and were designated Kestrel FGA.1 by the UK. The Kestrel was strictly an evaluation aircraft and to save money the Pegasus 5 engine was not fully developed as intended, only having 15,000 pounds (67 kN) of thrust instead of the projected 18,200 pounds (81 kN). The Tripartite Evaluation Squadron numbered ten pilots; four each from the UK and US and two from West Germany. The Kestrel's first flight took place on 7 March 1964.
A total of 960 sorties had been made during the trials, including 1,366 takeoffs and landings, by the end of evaluations in November 1965. One aircraft was destroyed in an accident and six others were transferred to the United States, assigned the US designation XV-6A Kestrel, and underwent further testing. The two remaining British-based Kestrels were assigned for further trials and experimentation at RAE Bedford with one being modified to use the uprated Pegasus 6 engine.