Former Dunsfold Chief Test Pilot John Farley’s presentation of his story of the Harrier development from 1951 to 2015. This hour long presentation is a unique insight into the early development of the “jump jet” and the evolution of Hawker’s prototypes P.1127 to the Harrier as a military aircraft. This recording was made by the Brooklands Museum Trust in 2015.
Video Copyright Brooklands Museum Trust ©2015 (digitally remastered 2020) The original slightly longer video is here.
There is also an audio interview at the Imperial way Museum.
The Harrier story – transcript of 2015 video presentation
Now the Harrier story goes back to 1951 and the meeting at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. Now 1951 is a long time ago. I mean that’s 64 years, isn’t it? And to try and get ourselves in the sort of mindset to thinking how long ago that was. It was two years later that our queen came to the throne. It was two years before Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tensing wandered up Everest and it was two years before the Supreme allied commander in Europe, Dwight Eisenhower now became president of the United States. That’s a long time ago. It’s also one year after I started my engineering apprenticeship at the Royal aircraft establishment. Now in those days, the main gate looked like that. And in the evening, this is the sort of thing you saw, people went to work on their feet in buses or on bikes. There were very, very few cars and indeed the number of bike sheds that Farnborough was astonishing.
But enough of that reminiscing. Let’s a look at the actual Harrier story in 1951 now, as I said, it was at the Royal aircraft establishment. There was a meeting. Now the meeting was of the RAE management board and one of the items on the agenda was what to do about these new fangled jet engines. It was apparent to the very senior boffins on the board that better and better jet Engines were being made. And it was only a matter of time before somebody produce one with a thrust level that was big enough to exceed the weight of a modest airplane. So he could take off vertically himself. But of course there was the big issue. How on us would you control the attitude of this thing? After all, as most of us in this room realize airplanes are controlled by movable surfaces on the wings and tail that the pilot adjusts, but they only steer the airplane when it’s going through the air.
You can wave the controllers about as much as you’d like on any of those out there or the real ones in the hangar. And the thing’s not going to move any more than our motor cars. If we wind the wheel in the garage, you know, changes the direction. It’s pointing any more than the rudder on a boat that’s moored in the Harbour will change the direction that’s pointing. So how were they going to control the attitude of this thing? Well, chap called Dennis Higton who was a lot younger then and in fact he was another former RAE apprentice. He came up with an idea and he said, what we need to do is to put small jets on the extremities of the airplane. Nose, tail , wing tip and so on and everybody said, okay, well we better try that out. So young Dennis had a crack and he stuck a pole up in the middle of the floor in the hangar and around that pole he arranged to have this assembly here can swing around the pole and this rectangle there is the model. Now whether you think of that as an aircraft wing, in which case rotating about that axis. It’s like the aircraft banking or whether you think of it as the fuselage with that, the nose and that the tail where you could raise all of the nose or tail, it doesn’t matter. There was a jet on each end and those are radio control system. So that RA test pilots as the day could have a crack at trying to hold this thing still because after all, if it was still, it meant it was dead level meant it was very accurately controlled. If it tilted slightly, then those jets would make it spin, run the pump. Well, in no time at all, people thought this was wonderful, and so young Dennis he wrote a report in 1952.
Now I want you to understand that I’m not making history up on the hoof here. I knew Dennis very well. I have a copy of his report and as you can see that it’s dated April, 1952, as I got to know Dennis, he was very keen to get me access to all the information that he had in his notebooks about the tests that he did at that time. And some of them made fascinating reading. I’m not going to bore you with the detail. , you know, the agendas for some of the meetings he had. And so well because this thing was such a success, the board of management said, right reaction controls, little jets, reaction controls, clearly work and the pilots can use them. What we now need is a man carrying rig – enter the flying bedstead as it was termed or I think to give it Rolls Royce’s better technical name, the thrust measuring rig. Now this is a couple of jet engines and the exhaust from these two engines was arranged to come out vertically underneath the the the rig, on which the engines were mounted. Now you can very easily see a jet there very easily see a jet there. There is another one here, but you’ll see that in a moment, a better in the video. The ones at the front and back because that’s where the pilot sat up on the top. They were of course the pitch control. Okay, so big, big date. 3rd of August, 1954 this was the date when Rolls Royce’s chief test pilot of the day. Captain Shepherd flew the first free hover, because it was tethered to start with, and jet powered vertical flight became a reality. 1954, three years after that first thought by the management board.
As this thing wanders around, you’ll be able to see the pipe sticking out both out the side and out the front and the back and so on. I’m now 1954 time videos hadn’t been invented, so photographers used film and they ran out, uh, just the wrong time.
Now because that, that device, that man carrying rig, the flying bedstead have been specified by the Royal aircraft establishment. It was actually intended that it went to them for their research and after the first few company proving flights, that is indeed what happened. And the bedstead went to RAE Bedford where aerodynamics flight had repositioned and had a fairly successful career. They’re looking at a variety of things as one does in a flight test program right now. Then at the end of this cause the bed step was just as successful as a as young dentist rig. At the end of this period. The boffins at Farnborough knew had a hover with a jet. They also of course knew beforehand how the fly in your wings.
The question was how did they get between the two and you might think which would be perfectly reasonable. We’ll only need somebody to push you along to get you from the hover through what is called an accelerating transition, onto your wings. But actually it’s not quite that simple and I’ll come back to the reason why in a minute. So realizing that they needed to experiment on this transition, the same people who are decided to do the bedstead said we want an airplane that can hover and also kind of accelerate. And that turned out to be the Short SC-1, which was again specified in detail by the RAE scientist but designed in detail. You know the stretch thing that twice and screwing it together by Short, Shorts has got the contract. Now you see it there in that picture. There’s obvious air intake over the middle of the fuselage and under that air and take a four small vertically mounted jet engines and there’s one out the back.
Now then I talked about it’s not as easy as you think just to push the thing forward. Why not? As it sits in the hover (and it is anything powered by jets) as it sits in the hover, there is huge amount of air coming down underneath the thrusts that told to get up. And of course it’s coming in from the top or from the front of somewhere. But it isn’t as simple as just that because there’s huge amount of air that finishes up squirting out underneath the airplane induces all sorts of changes in the air around their airplane. So the whole air mass tends to drift downwards, which really affects the aerodynamics of the airplane as it starts to move forward. Big trim changes and so, and this is what the SC-1 was designed to have a look at.
Then in April, 1960, Tom Brooksmith, Short’s chief test pilot, he did the first accelerating transition from a vertical take off, gone on his wings, flew past to show the point and came back and landed vertically.
Okay. Now later in that same year, 1960, later that year in October. Then hawkers did the first free hovers of an airplane called the P.1127. It’s registration happens to be XP831 and that particular airplane is currently hanging from the ceiling in the science museum at South Kensington.
Now that airplane XP381, the first P.1127 that happened because of one man’s idea. He was a French engineer, Michel Wibault, but we won’t hold that against him, at least not, not too much. His idea was for something called vectored thrust. In other words, you could swivel jets. Now being a French one, he went along and saw Marcel Dassult who was Mr. French aerospace and he couldn’t interest Marcel Dassult. So now that was a big mistake on Marcel Dassault’s part. In fact, if Marcel Dassult had listened to Wibault, you will probably have had one of Wibault’s relative standing here now.
But so what was young Michel Wibault to do when his country wouldn’t listen. When he, he knew a couple of American officers who were working in Paris at what was called the mutual weapons development unit, or some such name and NATO organization. And he said to them, and they were both pilots, he said, what do you think of this then? And showed them his ideas and they said, uh, we’re not competent to be sure about that. But we know somebody who is, because those two American gentlemen were working with Stanley Hooker who ran Bristol Siddeley engines of Bristol. And that was how the United Kingdom became involved. Those two Americans took Wibault’s idea on his behalf to Hooker and this was the idea, Wibault called it the Gyroptor. And what you see at the top on the right there is just a jet engine or a turbo jet that’s had the propeller taken off and the shaft is being used to run four centrifical blowers through gearboxes and like huge hairdryers. And you could swivel with those things about, and that was the idea.
Well Stanley Hooker certainly had a view on that lot. He did not like the mechanical complexity, but he thought that the vector thrust idea was wonderful. And so he, he got onto one of his brightest young men, a chap called Gordon Lewis and said, you work with Wibault on that idea. You come up with an engine, which doesn’t have all that mechanical complexity. And Lewis, he had the idea that you could take the air from a fan on the front of an engine and duct that out and vary its angle directly without all this machinery. So the Lewis / Wibault engine came to pass and they actually worked together for over six months. They took out a patent and their first rig that they ran looked like that. Now this was never intended to fly. This was a concept proving piece of kit and it was made up of various bits and pieces that were laying around the engine company.
The fan at the front – those three stages that you can see, they actually came from an Olympus compressor at the time. The thing at the back , the Orpheus gas generator drove the fan mechanically. The output from the fan came out of those two nozzles either side. The interesting thing here is that the, the air that went into the fan and came out straight away out of the front nozzles that came into the fan and out the front nozzles that had its own intake, whereas the air that went through the gas generator had a separate intake. Right. Okay. , that was the first engine now and to Hawker aircraft. An d again, to show that I’m not inventing history. This is a letter written in 1957. It’s a letter from Sydney Camm who was Hawker’s main fighter designer to Dr Hooker, Stanley Hooker the Rolls Royce man. What I want you to realize is that this is the actual letter and the important paragraph is this one, remember this is, this is Camm saying “what my own view is that before we can go very far, we would have to bear in mind that practical application of the aircraft”. In other words, it would not just be a research aircraft.
Camm did not like the SC-1. Well he didn’t see that there was any military potential in something similar to that. He wanted to designed a fighter. So when he wrote to Hooker. Hooker sent him the Wibault thing of course. And Sidney Camm’s management technique was a bit different to Hookers. Hooker, you will remember went to his brightest young lad and said “sort that”. Camm just took Wibault’s brochure and threw it on the coffee table in the advanced project office. And our thanks should be going now to a chap called Ralph Hooper who picked it up. Ralph Hooper was one of the young men in the future project office. And if you ask Ralph these days, what made you pick that brochure up and try and draw an airplane round it? He said, “because it seemed more interesting than what I was supposed to do that afternoon.”
Anyhow Ralph tried to sort this out and he could, you could see his problem. There was a rear exhaust here and only the air from the fan could be vectored. So he drew various airplanes to try and sort this out. Uh, he was going to hover the thing in a very nose up attitude. Um, he got this big stalky undercarriage and so on a few days later he tried one with side intakes, but then he had the brainwave T.he brainwave for which we should all be grateful. He was driving to work one day and he thought, why don’t we split the rear exhaust and put two more swivelling nozzles on it? So he rang up Gordon Lewis and Gordon and said, call. Yeah. And Gordon then over the period of one week came up with this design of a proper four nozzle vectored thrust engine.
This was intended to fly – this concept, this design. I suppose it’s just the way things happen in life, isn’t it? You know, if Ralph hadn’t had that thought, mind you, he, he was involved with the team that did the Seahawk and that of course had a bifurcated exhaust. Anyhow, once Gordon Lewis came up with the proper engine Ralph said, right, I’m going to draw the proper airplane round it and that ladies and gentlemen is the three view drawing of the airplane that hangs in the science museum. That is the actual three view drawing that he did, which became XP831. If we quickly go through, you will see how the thing worked. I mean we got this big engine two big intakes four nozzles and we’ve got to have a nozzle selection lever.
Now the big fat one outport there is the throttle. Every jet engine has one push it forward, the jet engine goes faster, pull it back, the jet engine goes slower. Inboard was a more narrow nozzle lever. You didn’t have to use your muscles to turn the nozzles with that lever there was a power control and it was called air motor that green lp underneath and with the system of pulleys and chains and so on, you signal the green lump what you wanted the nozzles to do and the green lump moved it via the machinery to, to the angle you wanted. And then finally, of course, the airplane needed Dennis Higton’s reaction controls. It needed a pipe going to nose, tail, and wing tips, with the appropriate outlets and so on, where the valves at the extremities were connected to the pilot’s ordinary flying controls.
So when you flew this airplane, you didn’t know when it moved, whether it moved, because of the aerodynamic controls or because of the reaction controls. And neither did you mind, I mean, you just wanted it to, to behave at any speed. Magic.
And that’s what it was like. Well, when Hugh Merewether, Bill Bedford had a crack at doing the first tethered hover things didn’t go too well. It was obviously very difficult to control. Now there were two factors in here. One was the little jets weren’t powerful enough. Okay, easy. We can wind the wick up on those. No, not easy. , every bit of air you put through those is robbed off the engine going out the back so you lose thrust. So there was pressure on to make-do with the smallest possible little jets, but the big thing was the under carriage and uh, you can see how it tilts there.
Well, the undercarriage needed eight years work and then it was sorted. It had a bicycle undercarriage. That’s, that’s the term for an undercarriage where the main leg is on the central line of the airplane, fairly well behind the center of gravity. Nose leg, obviously where it is, and little kiddy wheels on the extremities. Now, if you’re an undercarriage designer, you realized at once that the main leg is the one that is stressed and designed to take the impacts of touchdown. This means it’s gotta be longer than all the others so that it gets to ground first. Well, fine, you land vertically, that leg compresses , the nose wheel gets on the ground and the outriggers get on the ground. But then once the downward momentum has been killed by the springs in the undercarriage, then of course it comes back up a bit and so flop from one side or the other.
Well this gave awful ground handling and everybody hated it, uh, until somebody, and it won’t surprise you to know it was Ralph Hooper came up with the perfect solution and it was called the self shortening leg. In other words, the main leg worked like the leg on anybody else’s undercarriage and absorbed the energy, but it had no rebound. So the airplane sat dead flat and it’s ground handling was perfection. Now in the stories that I’m going through, we can’t do it all simply chronologically because there were lots of activities that went on in parallel. So I need to actually talk about that. One of those.
When XP831 was made, it was the first of six prototypes. Hawker’s made one every few months. And as they learn from flying the early ones, each new one was slightly different. And they took the aerodynamic shape of the last one, the sixth one, and put it into service with a nine aircraft squadron. It was in under the name Kestrel. Now this squadron was a tripartite squadron. It wasn’t a military squadron in the sense that it had guns and bombs and all the rest of it and rockets. It was, it was a military squardon to look at this jump jet stuff, this vertical and short take off and landing, this operating site flexibility, the places you can fly this funny thing from a supermarket car-park whatever. So the ministry, in order to look at this, and we have in the audience afternoon, Sir Donald Spears, who was the chief scientist associated with this Kestrel evaluation squadron.
And that brief was to see whether ordinary service pilots, well experienced service pilots, not, not first tourists, could take advantage of this vector thrusting. And the unit was made up of officers from the Royal Air Force, the commanding officer, David Scrimgeour was a RAF officer. There was a German and other English people and an American, so it was tripartite. It was an extremely successful exercise in that it did demonstrate the potential for military operations with the jump jet, using Hawker’s principle of vectored thrust. That was going on in parallel with some of the stuff we’ve been talking about before. Now let’s go look ahead to 68. That Kestrel squadron was 1966.
In 1968 at the Farnborough Airshow the United States Marine Corps came along in the form of Colonel Tom Miller and Lieutenant Colonel Bob Baker. These were forward thinking, Marine pilots who were in staff jobs in the Pentagon. They had heard about the tripartite squadron. They’d heard about what Hawker was doing with what became the Harrier. So they came along, knocked on the PR officers door and said, Hey, we want to fly your airplane. And now this airplane had not yet been cleared for Royal Air Force service. It hadn’t got a control of aircraft’s release. It was still in the middle of the development program. We hadn’t got any two seaters, we haven’t got any simulators. So for them to come along and just say, “Oh, I’m flying your airplane”, they would have to fly one of our development instrumented airplanes. Very, very treasured devices. And how were we going to convert them safely? And you know, I think, I think it was Thursday they came and by Friday I was asked to go along to Farnborough and talk to these guys.
And by Monday or Tuesday, the following week after a lot of activity in the ministry over the weekend, Hawkers had approval to convert Tom Miller and bud Baker to one of our airplanes. The two flight thing where they said, you tell us what to do on the first flight and we’re telling you what to do on the second flight. Uh, what we’re going to do on the second flight that went out the window. Of course I realized that these chaps had to be properly converted to the airplane if they were to be able to evaluate it sensibly in it’s many operational roles, not just in the circuit.
So I got the job of, of converting these guys and it was fine. I had a little bit of trouble with Bud Baker because b oth these chaps are very experienced. I mean, Tom Miller, , he held the world air speed record at that time when it was done low level around pylons in the desert. He was the number two pilot on the air record team. And he got the job of doing the record because the number one pilot killed himself doing it. Bud Baker was another very experienced Marine and they were both big men in the Phantom. And of course the Phantom F4 was a big airplane, heavy reheat, proper man’s airplane, not like this silly little kiddie’s thing, you know, with outriggers and all the rest of it.
When I decided that they ought to only do one thing, one new thing on each sortie until they had worked their way through all the various manoeuvres. And when I announced that their first sortie in the airplane, they would not be getting airborne. They’d only be taxying – poor old Bud, you know, flipped. He didn’t want some Brit to tell him what a taxi a jet airplane, you know, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. When I had good reasons for wanting to keep the taxi sortie. So I went and saw my boss Hugh Mereweather and I said, house rules, he does as he’s told. He said, yeah, I said, you’ll back me. He said, yeah. So I went and saw his boss, Tom Miller, and I said, look, I’m sorry. You know, he’s got to do a taxi session. Tom didn’t mind doing one himself. And so he had a word with him and I briefed them. And you know, when you’re briefing somebody and he’s just not taking any notice of what you say? Well, I rang the hanger up and I set him, Bud Baker up to fail. I got them to suck most of the fuel out the airplane, so he’d only had about 300 pounds of fuel in it. This meant that he’d had a thrust to weight ratio of 1.3 and the taxi sortie brief went like this. You get an airplane, you started up, et cetera, et cetera. I’ll stand on the ladder. I want you to do your cockpit checks when everything’s ready for you to press the button. I’ll get down the ladder cause of the intake we’re getting on the radio. You started up toe breaks like the Phantom and no sort of staring like the Phantom and uh, on off you go have a little drive around the airfield a bit and do the 360’s and make yourself totally happy with the nosewheeel steering and so on. And then when you’ve done all of that, I want you to line up on the runway as if you’re in your Phantom and I want you to set off doing a conventional takeoff. The only thing is when you get to 60 knots, six zero, I want you to close the throttle, put the brakes on, stop, turn around, come up, come back and have a cup of coffee and we’ll talk about it.
Well, 1.3 G is what Bob Baker got launched at. And to put it into numbers, that might mean something to most of us. Fom a standstill to the legal limit on the motorway here, 2.4 seconds. I mean, that’s the sort of acceleration that you get from a very large bike. Well Bud wasn’t expecting that, and it completely thew him, and he got to 120 knots before he got the throttle off. There was still planty of runway left because of the rapid accelleration. But now he was thinking – I screwed up I’d better stop. The pyschologists tell us that if you are taken by surprise by an aircraft that we revert to behaviour patterns of your previous type – and his previous aircraft was a Phantom. OK, fine, apply brakes, but in the Phantom you also pull the stick back because that tilted the tail up and pressed the aircraft down harder on the ground and then brakes work better – don’t they? But being right handed he pulled the stick up and over to the right because it doesn’t matter when you are on the ground in a Phantom. Now this little P.1127 is doing 120 knots and when he pulled the stick back and over to the right the nose wheel came up, the left wheel wingtip came up, and he scraped the right hand tailplane, superficialy along the runway before it fell down. This little airplane was nearly ready to fly on its wings.
Well when he came back here is eyes were out like organ stops!. “Dunn’t it go! “ I had him, as an instructor I had him. And he listened to every single thing I said in the following two weeks. And both of them did a quite brilliant evaluation of the aircraft. And they went back and these were good guys but were in the Pentagon jobs they weren’t formal test pilots. And its not on really for people like that to be making decisions on whether the Marine Corps should have this Harrier or not. But they made enough fuss around the Pentagon and got enough support from the top of the Marine Corps that the Navy system swung into action.
The US Navy was and still is responsible for the procurement of United States Marine Corps airplanes. It doesn’t matter why it’s like that. It just is. So in a few months, beginning of the next year we had an NPE come over a Navy preliminary evaluation team, I think it was February in 69 This is a team of real test pilots, current test pilots from their equivalent of Boscombe Down, Putuxent River in the United States. And these guys were good guys. Bob Thomas was a commander in the United States Navy and he was the leader of the team and there was Bill Casey and Mike Ripley and Bill Shone. They were all extremely competent gentlemen.
Now I realize when it came to trying to check them out in the same way that I checked out Bud and Tom of course that , after their checkout they were going to go and do what any test pilot would do. In other words, goes through the planned program that he had arrived in England with. If you’re going to go and fly in your airplane, you have fixed ideas about what it is you want to look at, what it is you want to do, how are you going to do it, all the rest of it, information you want. And I was afraid that if in doing that they tripped over a problem that the aeroplane had, and remember it wasn’t yet in service with the Royal air force because there was things that still needed sorting, if they tripped over a problem they do what I would do they’d tear their preplanned thing up and they will concentrate on the problem.
And I was afraid therefore since the airplane had more good things and bad things, that they wouldn’t get the full list of good things sorted because they were concentrating on the bad things. Well, the way I saw that was I put them in a classroom for two days and I briefed them on every single problem we had with airplane in detail, what we intended to do about it and how I dealt with it in the sky. And I saw these guys looking at each other. And I didn’t know until much later on that they weren’t used to this sort of treatment. And when I said to Bill Shone five years later, you know, he said, haven’t you heard what we call the American contractors? And I said, no. He said, we call them lying cheating contractors because they never tell us anything that’s wrong with the airplane and they just hope we won’t find out. And for two days you told us nothing except what was wrong. So the end result was where these guys flew their plane, they didn’t experience anything that was unexpected and they wrote a brilliant report and as we know the, the Marine Corp bought the aeroplane. Okay, so now we look at 1969 another of these parallel sort of activities when the airplane went into service with the Royal air force self shortening leg and all that sort of thing.
To some of the people in the world, they think the Harrier was just a sort of funny little toy built to improve the quality of airshows. Well it wasn’t like that at all. It was an operation of the airplane and the operational equipment in the Harrier GR1 Ground Reconnaissance mk1, the operational equipment in that airplane was in advance of all other aircraft in the Royal Air Force at that time. It was the first Royal Air Force airplane to have a head up display. Now for those of you who may not be familiar with one, it’s a sheet of glass mounted in this just inside the cockpit behind the windscreen and on that from a projector underneath is displayed. All the information that you need to fly there, but the height, the speed, the heading, you know all that sort of stuff.
The stuff that you normally have to look down in the cockpit and find from your instruments, so how much nicer it is to have a head up display so that you can look outside when you’re flying at low level and don’t have to take your eyes off the ground. That’s rushing past well, as I said, that was the first airplane in the Royal Air Force experience to have a head up display.
The next piece of kit that it had, which was a first for the Royal Air Force was and their inertial navigation system. Now all of this is, is a black box that can tell you where you are at all times without transmitting anything. It’s self contained and its works allow it to know wherever the airplane goes. It doesn’t know where it started from, you have to tell it that. But if you don’t know what airfield you’re starting from at the beginning of the trip, you probably got other problems as well. So you’re punching the latitude and longitude of your, your startup pan. from the airfield and from there on an inertial navigation system through a mixture of clever gyros and accelerometers and computers will measure the acceleration in any direction. Turn it into a velocity, turn it into a distance and uh, it knows where you are.
The final thing is a moving map display. Now since you’ve got it in inertial navigation system, one of the things you could do with it is to put a screen down between your legs. Nice big thing. I which you project a map and that map moves around. You are always in the center of the screen and the map moves around behind you so it shows you exactly where you are. And that doesn’t half beat sitting in a Hunter, you know, with a handheld map and looking out the side and trying to decide where you are. So what an amazing leap forward the operational equipment was for the Harrier. The were some that still just saw it as some sort of toy, but nevermind.
1971 we’re going back now to the Marine Corps. They got their airplanes, they wanted to fly it from that LPH-class, landing platform – helicopter. This is not an aircraft carrier, this is just a flat deck ship with the Marines, the grunts in the bottom of the boat and a few helicopters on the top and you drive this boat to within 50 miles of the beach where you want to carry out amphibious assault and they get the grunts up and put them into the choppers that take off and they go and they do the amphibious assault. However, they’re obviously very vulnerable to enemy air attack and the Marines have always wanted to be able to have their own airplanes, fixed wing airplanes that they could use to defend the ship and the helicopters while the amphibious assault was taking place and they saw the Harrier as the obvious thing. There you see the Harrier alongside in the hover, two or three more, four more on the deck itself.
Now then something I haven’t mentioned, if you make your airplane too heavy by filling it fuel with lots of tanks, bombs, guns, rockets, if you make the weight of the airplane greater than the thrust of the jet engine you can’t do a vertical take off. You can put the nozzles down, open the throttle and it’ll roar and shake , but it won’t go anywhere. Well, talking numbers, the engine of the day had 19,000 pounds of thrust. The empty airplane was 13,800 to 14,200 in those days. So it had perfectly good vertical payload. But if you filled it right up, it weighed about 22,000 pounds and put all the guns and bombs on it. So we are short of 3000 pounds. Now if you run along the runway so that the wing is going fast enough, not to pick the whole aeroplane up, but just to provide 3000 pounds of lift and you bang the nozzles down then, you will jump into the air and a mixture of jet and wing lift – and it’s called a short take off. Well that is what they were doing from their ships because no military commander wants you to get away with anything other than the maximum of what you can take. So let’s imagine you are sitting in that Harrier inside the circle. You’re at max weight and you’ve got to do a short takeoff. You got to run it on the deck with your nozzles facing aft. And when you get to the end, and it’s very obvious when you get to the end, you just bang nozzles down and you fly away. But first of all, of course you’ll have to ask that chap to move his helicopter.
Then you can do your short takeoff and this, this became a completely routine operation. But if you think about it, it’s only going to work easily when the weather’s like in that picture, but if the sea is very rough, we know what steamers do, they go up like this, deal down like that, and with your luck by about Thursday afternoon, we get to the end of the deck on the short take off, just as it’s pointing down at the sea. And that’s no way to start the trip. So a Lieutenant Commander, Doug Taylor in the Royal Navy, he came up with the idea of a ski jump. Simple enough, if you put a ramp, a curved ramp on the end of your flight deck, providing the exit angle of the ramp is bigger than any bow down tendancy of the boat, then your airplane will always be going up and away from the seat. And it was as simple as that. And as magical as that. But in order to prove his idea, and there were a lot of skeptics, an adjustable angle ramp was built at Bedford and we’re talking 1977 now, August 77 we started doing the first ski jump launches.
Moving on to 1978 we had by now got the Sea Harrier. This was a version of the then Royal Air Force aeroplane modified for what we expected the Navy to want to do. The whole cockpit was lifted up nearly a foot in order to improve the all around visibility because this was to be the Sea Harrier FRS Mk1 – Fighter, Reconnaissance and Strike. Air ro Air weapons, so there’s nothing worse than where in an airplane when you can’t see behind you – so hence raised the pilot. Reconnaissance, well radar for the first time so that they could go and find the enemy ships or go and find the enemy airplanes. And strike was a nuclear capability because the Navy wanted to be able to drop nuclear depth charges. And just as a little aside, you will never see a Sea Harrier without its inboard pylons on, because inboard pylons are where those depth charges would have been carried. And because of the need for ultra reliability and all nuclear weapons, they wouldn’t allow us to have the normal sort of electrical connections at the pylon/wing junction that are necessary when you take a pylon off any airplane. So we had to have a continuous wiring right down to the store and that’s why you always see the inbuilt pylons on Sea Harriers.
Farnborough 1978 showed in public Sea Harrier for the first time public hadn’t seen it before and it had only flown in August. It was a Sunday. And we got our first flight in the Sea Harrier. Farnborough Airshow was in September. Most of the time in between was painting the airplane and so on ‘cause when I flew it, it had only its primary coat on it. So Farnborough 78 saw the Sea Harrier and a ski jump introduced at Farnborough.
Now back to another parallel activity, also in the 1970s came the laser. The RAF airplanes, the GR Mk 1’s, they didn’t have any advanced weapon aiming capability. If you were to drop bombs accurately, well if you drop bombs accurately you were probably a bit lucky. It was just like a Hunter. But the laser became invented and it was clear that an LRMTS, a laser range finder and the marked target seeker could be fitted. Long story short, this enables a pilot carrying out his first pass at the ground target that is illuminated by a laser to get a very accurate bomb drop.
It transformed the weapon aiming capability and so on off the airplane. We’ve all seen amazing sort of laser pictures and so on. Some of the Wars that have happened in more recent times. And really these laser guided systems are remarkably accurate.
Okay. 1981 the Sea Harrier went into service with the Royal Navy – and there’s a lineup of some of them at Yeovilton. 1982 was the Falklands and there was a big scramble to get as many Harriers as we could muster. And initially it was only 20, onto the boats and for Invincible and Hermes to wander off. The fleet was reinforced with more Harriers a week or two later taken down on as deck cargo on the Atlantic Conveyor and they, you see one airplane ended up positioning or about to do a landing on the mat on the front of the Atlantic Conveyor all the way down. The ship went by itself all the way down. They had a Sea Harrier with air to air missiles and guns loaded on standby on the pad to do a vertical take off and defend the ship. When the Falklands was all over Margaret Thatcher came in to Kingston to thank all the guys there for for what they did.
Now then another parallel activity. The Marine Corps got their airplane in 1971. As is normal with any efficient fighting force within a year or two of getting a brand new piece of kit, you take a couple of three of your good brains and you shut them in a dark room and say, tell us what we need to buy next time. In other words, you need to get ahead of the game. Well, these guys came out in 1974 or five time and said, we need a Harrier II – the difference is it’s got a bigger wing so that it can carry more fuel and carry more weapons. We want the Harrier II, to do everything that a Harrier I would do, but in the case of range, go twice as far or in the case of payload carry twice as much. And that was even from a vertical takeoff. Okay fine. No problem. We’re just making a bigger engine. No, no, no, no, no, no money for a bigger engine.
So we’ve now got to sort out how do you improve a VTO without changing the engine and a bigger and better engine. And of course some of the other aspects of the improved performance were easier to meet – a bigger wins. So what they did was they took the blue bits on the lefthand side. They were changes from the original Marine Corps airplane, so they manufactured some new intakes for the engine so they could breathe better. They manufacturer, the bigger wing so it can carry more fuel and have more weapons stations. And that was flown as the Y-AV8B to prove the changes if you like. On the right hand side of the screen was how they expected the definitive Harrier to, to look with the extra red bits added to the blue bits and the red bits weren’t what one would call high risk. So there’s no real problem. They didn’t need to be tested independently. So there’s a comparison of the two wings. The yellow wing is the big one, the blue one is the smaller one and as it says there, the little one is 201 square feet and the Harrier II is 230 and much bigger flaps. Look at the cross-section of the two wings. The thin blue one is what’s on the Sea Harrier. The big yellow one is what was on the AV8 B and later Royal Air Force five, seven and nines.
Clearly there’s going to be more drag with that yellow one and the Harrier II characterized by the big wing does have, I don’t know, reduction of airspeed of about 80 knots compared to Sea Harrier, but it’s a much better bomb truck. They also wanted the outriggers to be moved and you can see how the yellow Outrigger is much closer to the central line than the blue one. This was because of the Marines wanted to fly from narrower roads. No other reasons. That’s fine. Okay. I had a lot of fun about this time going out to the States, 1979 now to fly the YAV8B, the new wings and that sort of thing and then eventually to fly the actual AV8B, and I spent most of 1982 out at Edwards Air Force base doing engine development trials because they did make changes to the engine. McDonald Douglas had a rather, uh, what’s the word?, optimistically said, well, we can do this in six weeks. It actually took within a week or two a year. And we had three or four build standards on the engine and two or three on the intake before we got the performance that was necessary to meet for Harrier II requirements. I had over two hours gliding in the airplane that year. at Edwards and since it has some of the characteristics of this building if dropped at 40,000 feet, that was a lot of episodes…I think 40 odd episodes, But because we were having to deliberately stop the engine show that we could restart it, we’re having to deliberately expose the intake to conditions where it might fail to produce the sort of airflow the engine could swallow. So it was all perfectly sensible stuff and because we were doing it out at Edwards, there was no risk at all. I didn’t think it was any risk, you couldn’t do it at Dunsfold because if you didn’t get the engine going again, we needed a lot more space than Dunsfold to to do a forced landing.
There were a few politics which will probably interest Sir Donald Spears and a few more people as well. I was a Brit civilian flying at the United States Air Force flight test center on a United States Navy airplane program on a Marine Corps aircraft still owned by McDonald Douglas. “And he’s gonna what? Stop the engine”. There were a few hierarchies who were anxious that should what they thought was going to happen by about Wednesday go wrong they wouldn’t be lumbered. So you can imagine there were lots of politics associated with that exercise, but it was all fine. I had a wonderful time out in the state line. I was chief test pilot at the time at Dunsfold and when you’re chief of anything, the head of any department, of course you can’t just do the work of the department. You’ve got to fend off all the other departments. You’ve got to deal with PR, marketing inhouse, whatever it is. And much of your time is spent not doing what you want to do, which is fly the airplanes getting on with all this ad nausea. Out in the States I was just a pilot on the program. And poor old Andy Jones was back at Dunsfold trying to keep that place afloat. The Sea Harrier was retired in 2006, this was a political decision. Our ships hadn’t come under enemy air attacks in snow. You needed to, so that was 18, 24 years or something. And so the government of the day decided they couldn’t afford to have fighters on their ships. So they threw the FA2 away.
Pity because it was the first European aircraft capable of using the beyond visual range United States advanced medium range air to air missile – a missile you can fire at a target that you never see, a missile you can fire at the night, a missile you can fire the targets in cloud, a missile you can fire at a very long range, 30 odd miles. Unlike the ones they took down to the Falklands, which were really sort of one and a half mile range devices, you had to see the enemy, you had to lock the seek ahead of your missile up before you let it go. Very restricted. The AMRAAM was an amazing piece of kit and it forms the basis of what is used today, but the FA2 was arguably the best interceptor of the day when it was retired. But then so many decisions like that are made on the basis of politics rather than military argument.
The RFA 5 went into service in 1985 and this was the equivalent of the United States Marine Corps AV8B the thing I’ve been flying down at Edwards, it had extra pylons compared to 4 under each wing compared to the two of the Hairier one. And in addition, it had two pounds more than the Marine Corps one because on outrigger pylons we added the ability to hang Sidewinder,
The story of the Harrier II in the Royal Air Force from 1985 to 2010. What’s that? 15 years, 25 years, was one of continuous improvement of the military kit. The head up displays, the inertial nav systems, the moving map displays of the day, you much more advanced. There are all sorts of offensive combat bits of kit defensive kittens, but the airplanes were kept very, very much up to date. And then as we all know, on the 15th of December, 2010, the United Kingdom decided that he didn’t want Harriers anymore. We won’t go into that decision. We just accept it. It was a political decision, not a military one. And shortly after it happened, all sorts of people rang me up from all sorts of the media, saying they understood I’d been with the airplane since 1964 or something and I must be crying my eyes out and all the rest of it. And I said, no, no, no, no, no. I don’t want to go in your program because there’s nothing wrong with airplane, it’s just a political decision. The airplane’s fine. Why should I be upset?
The airplane is still being flown by a lot of other countries. And of course, as soon as the media realize you don’t want to cry in front of the camera, then you don’t have to get on the train. The United States Marine Corps are still using their plane and now they have got the 70 some odd that we had when they were grounded politically. They’ve been sold to the United States, so they’ve now got more spares and engines and so on. And that has enabled them to say that they will not finish flying areas until 2030. They’re going to start winding them down in 2027. But it’s still, you know, 12, 13 years, 14 years away. So the United States Marine Corps are very pleased with the airplane very modern. And a lot of the aircraft we grounded – were only three years old, you know, and, the Italian Navy is still flying the airplane. Spanish Navy is still flying the airplane. The Thai Navy has still got the airplane and their ship even as a ski jump. And, the Indian Navy is still flying, Sea Harriers
So that’s why I don’t want to cry it in my whatnot, because there’s nothing wrong with the airplane. And the Ralph Hoopers of this world can be very, very proud of it. But, and this whole story that I’ve tried to cover, uh, but it’s an, it’s a very big but. It’s only thanks to four British designers Hooker, his man Lewis, Cam and his man Hooper. And of course the scientists of the Royal aircraft establishment. And there’s a young Dennis Higton, he died recently, a couple of years ago.