Where Are They Now? Once-Mighty Harrier Fleet Languishes
The iconic British Harriers lay still and silent, baking under the Arizona Sun.In the dry desert of the South-Western US, vast swathes of...
The iconic British Harriers lay still and silent, baking under the Arizona Sun.
In the dry desert of the South-Western US, vast swathes of abandoned aircraft lie in various states of disrepair. Among them, is the remainder of a once proud, now legendary, Harrier fleet.
Having deployed victoriously on operations to help Britain defeat Argentina in The Falklands and in the Yugoslav War of the 1990's, their iconic status is preserved.
Used across the world by military air arms from Italy to India, this revolutionary aircraft now lays withered and broken in America's aircraft 'Boneyard'.
What was once the pride of the RAF and Royal Navy, the now-skeletal Harrier fleet is used for spare parts, and will continue to be cannibalised until at least 2025.
The fate of the Harriers, and the question of what should replace them, caused a political storm. After much mud-slinging and many U-turns over the pros and cons of F35-B versus F35-C capability, the Harriers replacement was finally decided.
The replacement for the Harrier, the F35-B, still hasn't arrived. Embroiled in debates over it's close range capability, and with spiralling 'fly away' unit prices, what is now certain is that it will cost Britain more, per plane, than the entire Harrier fleet fetched at market in 2011.
America bought all of Britain’s 77 Harrier aircraft for the nominal sum of £110 million. Rear Admiral Mark Heinrich, chief of the US Navy’s procurement, explained the deal made sense because many of the British jets had recently undergone a refit – and the US already had pilots who could fly them.
He conceded: "We’re taking advantage of all the money the Brits have spent on them. It’s like we’re buying a car with maybe 15,000 miles on it. These are very good platforms. And we’ve already got trained pilots."
Since then, however, the Ministry of Defence have saved a considerable sum, and following a freedom of information request submitted in 2013 said:
"When the value of the sale is added to the savings made from retiring the Harrier fleet from service, the total estimated receipts and savings to the MOD is around £1 billion."
Two aircraft were also retained by the MOD for training purposes. One is at the Royal Navy Air Engineering & 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.
Royal Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan J. Gray was the last British pilot to fly a Harrier. This photo shows him before his final flight in August, 2011.