Aircraft

Harrier: 10 Years Since Iconic Jump Jet's Last Flight

The iconic aircraft was in service for more than 40 years.

It is 10 years to the day since the Harrier jump jet conducted its final flight, after 40 years of service.

But what made the aircraft, which features in our 'Top 10 RAF Warplanes' list, so revolutionary and iconic?

The Harrier was the world's first and most widely-used vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) jet aircraft.

There were four main versions of the Harrier family: Hawker Siddeley Harrier, British Aerospace Sea Harrier, Boeing/BAE Systems AV-8B Harrier II, and BAE Systems/Boeing Harrier II.

The British-designed jump jet was developed 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.

Well known for its role in the Falklands War, the Harrier went on to serve in many other conflicts including in Bosnia and Iraq in the 1990s.

The RAF and Royal Navy Harrier squadrons joined forces in 2000 to form Joint Force Harrier, based at RAF Cottesmore, Rutland.

These combined Harrier squadrons served in Sierra Leone, the second Gulf War and most recently Afghanistan.

Harrier jets made their final flight over RAF Cottesmore on 15 December 2010.

The Joint Force Harrier retired early after falling victim to controversial spending cuts as part of the Strategic Defence Review.

The aircraft were axed alongside the HMS Arc Royal which was also decommissioned in 2010, leaving the UK with no fixed-wing capability from aircraft carriers until their replacements, the Queen Elizabeth-class ships and F-35s, enter active service. 

Sixteen GR9 Harrier aircraft flying in a diamond formation to mark their retirement in 2010 (Picture: MOD).

Former Harrier pilot and instructor, Air Vice-Marshal (Ret’d) Sean Bell told Forces News: “It was an amazing airplane to fly.”

“The Harrier, uniquely could also…hover, could pirouette and could do all sorts of strange slow speed manoeuvres which meant you weren’t reliant on aerodynamics.

“That was quite tricky so it kept you on your toes, even when you were as experienced as some of us old chaps were!”

At the end of November 2011, the UK Government announced the sale of 72 remaining Harrier airframes to the US Marine Corps, for spares to support their AV-8B fleet.

Two aircraft were retained by the MOD for training purposes.

One is at the Royal Navy Air Engineering and Survival School, Gosport, and the other is at RAF Wittering in Lincolnshire.

The Fleet Air Arm Museum, the RAF Museum, and the Imperial War Museum each received one Harrier aircraft in order to preserve the UK’s military heritage.