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Harrier Jump Jet
A Harrier GR7A of 800 Naval Air Sqn, Royal Navy
Role V/STOL strike aircraft
Manufacturer Hawker Siddeley
British Aerospace/McDonnell Douglas
Boeing/BAE Systems
Introduction 1969
Status In service
Primary users United States Marine Corps
Royal Air Force (retired)
Royal Navy (retired)
Indian Navy
Developed from Hawker P.1127/Kestrel FGA.1
Variants Hawker Siddeley Harrier
British Aerospace Sea Harrier
McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II
British Aerospace Harrier II

The Harrier, informally referred to as the Jump Jet, is a family of military jet aircraft capable of vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) operations. Historically the Harrier was developed in Britain to operate from ad-hoc facilities such as car parks or forest clearings, avoiding the need for large air bases vulnerable to tactical nuclear weapons. Later the design was adapted for use from aircraft carriers. The Harrier is also distinct as being of modern era, yet subsonic, contrasting with most of the major Western post-World War II-era attack aircraft, which tend to be supersonic.

There are two generations of four main variants of the Harrier family:

The Hawker Siddeley Harrier is the first generation-version and is also known as the AV-8A Harrier. The Sea Harrier is a naval strike/air defence fighter. The AV-8B and BAE Harrier II are the US and British variants respectively of the second generation Harrier aircraft.



Following an approach by the Bristol Engine Company in 1957 that they were planning a directed thrust engine, Hawker Aircraft came up with a design for an aeroplane that could meet the NATO specification for a "Light Tactical Support Fighter". There was no financial support for the development from HM Treasury, but aid was found through the Mutual Weapon Development Project (MWDP) of NATO.

The Hawker P.1127 was ordered as a prototype and flew in 1960. NATO developed a specification (NBMR-3) for a VTOL aircraft, but one that was expected to have the performance of an aircraft like the F-4 Phantom II. Hawker drafted a supersonic version of the P.1127, the P.1150, and also the Hawker P.1154 which would meet NBMR-3. The latter was a winner of the NATO competition and development continued, initially for both services, until cancelled, by the new government on cost grounds, at the point of prototype construction in 1965.

Work on the P.1127 continued with 9 evaluation aircraft, the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel, ordered. These started flying in 1964 and were assessed by the "Tri-partite Evaluation Squadron" which consisted of British, US and German pilots. With the cancellation of the P.1154, the RAF ordered a modified P.1127/Kestrel as the Harrier GR.1 in 1966.

First-generation Harriers

The Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1/GR.3 and the AV-8A Harrier were the first generation of the Harrier series, the first operational close-support and reconnaissance attack aircraft with vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) capabilities. These were developed directly from the Hawker P.1127 prototype and the Kestrel evaluation aircraft.

The British Aerospace Sea Harrier is a naval V/STOL jet fighter, reconnaissance and attack aircraft, a development of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier. The first version entered service with the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm in April 1980 as the Sea Harrier FRS.1, and was informally known as the Shar. The upgraded Sea Harrier FA2 entered service in 1993. It was withdrawn from Royal Navy service in March 2006. The Sea Harrier FRS Mk.51 is in active service with the Indian Navy, which operates the jet from its aircraft carrier INS Viraat.

Second-generation Harriers

The Harrier was extensively redeveloped by McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace (now parts of Boeing and BAE Systems respectively), leading to the Boeing/BAE Systems AV-8B Harrier II.[1] This is a family of second-generation V/STOL jet multi-role aircraft, including the British Aerospace-built Harrier GR5/GR7/GR9, which entered service in the mid-1980s. The AV-8B is primarily used for light attack or multi-role tasks, typically operated from small aircraft carriers. Versions are used by several NATO countries, including Spain, Italy, and the United States. The BAE Systems/Boeing Harrier II is a modified version of the AV-8B Harrier II that was used by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Royal Navy until 2010.

Between 1969 and 2003, 824 Harrier variants were delivered. While manufacture of new Harriers concluded in 1997, the last remanufactured aircraft (Harrier II Plus configuration) was delivered in December 2003 which ended the Harrier production line.[2]


The Harrier Jump Jet, capable of taking off vertically, can only do so at less than its maximum weight. In most cases the aircraft does a short take off where it gains forward speed and thus aerodynamic lift, saving fuel.

On aircraft carriers a ramp is frequently employed at the end of the carrier which allows the aircraft to accelerate along the carrier using less fuel for takeoff.

Landings are also typically performed very differently. Although a conventional landing is possible, the range of speeds that this can be done over is narrow (due to relatively vulnerable outrigger undercarriage). Operationally the aircraft therefore usually does a near vertical landing with some forward speed.


As of late 2010, the F-35B STOVL variant of the F-35 Lightning II (formerly the Joint Strike Fighter) is intended to replace the AV-8B Harrier II in service with the US Marine Corps[3][4] and the Italian Navy[5] from 2014 onwards. As of May 2014, the RAF and Royal Navy are also scheduled to introduce the F-35B around 2020.[6] In 2010, it was announced that the RAF and RN would retire their remaining Harriers by 2011,[7] and in December 2010 the RAF's Harrier GR9s made their last operational flights.[8] In June 2011, the MoD denied press reports that the aircraft are to be sold to the US Marine Corps for spares to support their AV-8B fleet, but options for disposal are still being considered.[9][10] However, at the end of November 2011, Defence Minister Peter Luff announced the sale of the final 72 Harriers to the US Marine Corps.[11] As many as possible of the 72 Harrier GR9s will be converted to match AV-8B Night Attack configuration to augment the total AV-8B end strength (this will allow the USMC to retire some high-flight-hour F/A-18D aircraft), while the remaining aircraft will be used as spare parts sources for the airworthy fleet.[12]


The Hawker P.1127, predecessor of the Harrier

An RAF Harrier GR3 on display at Bletchley Park, England

Hawker P.1127
Kestrel FGA.1
Harrier GR.1/1A/3/3A
(from 1966)
Harrier T.2/2A/4/4A/8/52/60
(from 1970)
AV-8A/C/S Harrier Mk.50/53/55/Matador
TAV-8A/S Harrier Mk.54/Matador

Royal Navy Sea Harrier FA2s of 801 Naval Air Squadron on the deck of HMS Illustrious in the Persian Gulf

US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier

Sea Harrier FRS.1/FRS.51/F(A).2
(from 1978)
AV-8B Harrier II/EAV-8B Matador II/AV-8B Harrier II Night Attack/AV-8B Harrier II Plus
(from 1983)
TAV-8B Harrier II/ETAV-8B Matador II/

RAF Harrier GR9 arrives at RIAT 2008

Harrier GR.5/5A/7/7A/9/9A
(from 1985)
Harrier T.10/12

AV-8B Harrier landing aboard Principe de Asturias


A parked Harrier

A Spanish Navy AV-8S Matador aircraft

several Harriers stored on board a ship

United States Marine Corps AV-8A of VMA-231 in 1980

 United Kingdom
United States


Kestrel FGA.1 Harrier GR3/AV-8A Sea Harrier FA2 Harrier GR9 AV-8B+ Harrier
Crew One (Two for trainer versions)
Length 42 ft 6 in (13.0 m) 47 ft 2 in (14.4 m) 46 ft 6 in (14.2 m) 46 ft 4 in (14.1 m) 47 ft 8 in (14.5 m)
Wingspan 22 ft 11 in (6.98 m) 25 ft 3 in (7.70 m) 25 ft 3 in (7.70 m) 30 ft 4 in (9.25 m) 30 ft 4 in (9.25 m)
Height 10 ft 9 in (3.28 m) 11 ft 4 in (3.45 m) 12 ft 4 in (3.76 m) 11 ft 8 in (3.56 m) 11 ft 8 in (3.56 m)
Empty Weight 10,000 lb (4,540 kg) 12,200 lb (5,530 kg) 14,052 lb (6,370 kg) 12,500 lb (5,670 kg)? 13,968 lb (6,340 kg)
Maximum take-off weight
(short takeoff)
17,000 lb (7,710 kg) 26,000 lb (11,800 kg) 26,200 lb (11,900 kg) 31,000 lb (14,100 kg) 31,000 lb (14,100 kg)
Max speed 545 mph (877 km/h) 731 mph (1,180 km/h) 735 mph (1,180 km/h) 662 mph (1,070 km/h) 662 mph (1,070 km/h)
Combat radius 200 nmi (370 km) 300 nmi (556 km) 300 nmi (556 km)
Engine Pegasus 6 Pegasus 11 Mk 101 Pegasus 11 Mk 106 Pegasus 11 Mk 107 Pegasus 11 Mk 105
Thrust 15,000 lbf (66.7 kN) 21,800 lbf (97.0 kN) 21,800 lbf (97.0 kN) 24,750 lbf (110 kN) 23,500 lbf (105 kN)
Radar None None Blue Fox / Blue Vixen None AN/APG-65
Sources: Norden[14]

Operators of the Harrier (all variants)

See also


  1. Norden, Lon O. Harrier II, Validating V/STOL. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2006. ISBN 1-59114-536-8.
  2. "Harrier Projects." Retrieved: 21 July 2011.
  3. "Harrier Production." Retrieved: 21 July 2011.
  4. "F-35 Lightning II Program Update & Fast Facts." Retrieved: 26 August 2010.
  5. "Parliament Act on JSF Program." Retrieved: 29 March 2010.
  6. Chuter, Andrew. "It’s Official: U.K. To Switch Back to STOVL F-35". Defense News, 10 May 2012.
  7. "Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review." HM Government, 19 October 2010. Retrieved: 19 October 2010.
  8. "Harrier jump jets make final flight from RAF Cottesmore". BBC News,
  9. "Harrier jump-jets sold 'for peanuts'." The Telegraph, 15 June 2011.
  10. "MoD denies sale of Harriers to US." DMJ, 15 June 2011.
  11. "UK sells 72 retired Harrier jump jets for $180m to US." BBC News, 24 November 2011.
  12. Harrier: The Best British Jet Ever? | International Aviation HQ June 22, 2019
  14. Norden 2006, Appendix C.

Further reading

  • Farley, John OBE. A View From The Hover: My Life In Aviation. Bath, UK: Seager Publishing/Flyer Books, 2010, first edition 2008. ISBN 978-0-9532752-0-5.
  • Polmar, Norman and Dana Bell. One Hundred Years of World Military Aircraft. Annapolis, Maryland, USA: Naval Institute Press, 2003. ISBN 1-59114-686-0.

External links

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