The Hunter continued in production, or refurbishment, until 1980 by which time almost 2,000 had been produced. It is reported that “the Hunter cost £100,000 in 1956, which is not far off £450,000 in 1974 money” (54) ; and about £16,000,000 when estimated at 2011 prices. (55) That clearly represents a great deal of money!
The Harrier: the “Jump Jet”
“Jump jets” are, technically speaking, vertical (or short) take-off and landing (VTOL or V/STOL) aircraft that can also be used on short runways. They can operate from clearings in forests and small aircraft carriers. The Harrier is unique in that it is the only aircraft using vectored thrust so that it can take off, fly and land either vertically or conventionally. BAe proudly says “The Harrier was the only true STOL (short take-off and landing) aircraft in the world.” (56)
In October 1960, the Hawker Siddeley Group’s P.1127, “the world’s first operational vertical take-off strike aircraft, made its first tethered flight at Dunsfold Aerodrome” which led to the Daily Express running the front-page headline “The Jumping Jet” (57). The plane is now on display at the Science Museum in London. (58)
The first P.1127 in “free hovering flight” at Dunsfold Aerodrome (59)
The P.1127 evolved into the Kestrel and then the Harrier. (60) In 1967, Flight International announced “HARRIER World’s first fixed-wing V/STOL weapons system”, with a nine-page article describing its history and novelty. (61) By 1969, the RAF was using Harriers. (62) The potential for use at sea was recognised from the start with the Hawker Siddeley P.1127 landing on HMS Ark Royal in 1963. (63) However, it was not until 1978 that the prototype “Navalised-Harrier” took to the air over Dunsfold. The first Sea Harrier joined the Royal Navy in 1980. (64)
The Falklands War started on 2 April 1982 when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, a British Overseas Territory some 300 miles off its east coast and some 8,000 miles from the UK. The British Government dispatched a Task Force on 5 April. The resulting conflict ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, returning the islands to British control.
Dunsfold Aerodrome immediately went on to a war-footing. The three Harriers based at Dunsfold for trails were commandeered and one was to be seen on HMS Hermes ski-jump as it sailed from Portsmouth. (65) Dunsfold went on to double-shift working to modify Harriers and Sea Harriers for air combat and ground attack roles in the South Atlantic and played a crucial role in ensuring that the Royal Navy was in a position to send a second Sea Harrier- equipped carrier to the Falklands, though the conflict ended before this was necessary. (66) Dunsfold test pilot Taylor Scott volunteered to return to the Royal Navy to help form and train an additional Sea Harrier squadron, 809. (67) It is reported that 42 Harriers and Sea Harriers were deployed. (68) BAe comments “The usage in the Falklands was probably the most high profile and important success recorded” as “it was the only fixed-wing fighter available to protect the British Task Force.”(69) Sea Harriers shot down at least 28 Argentinian aircraft, without loss in air-to-air combat (although there were losses on the ground). The Harrier was vital in winning this conflict.(70) When reporter Brian Hanrahan worked around the reporting restrictions by saying, “I counted them all out, and I counted them all back”, he was counting Harriers. (71) As a result of this success, the British Government immediately ordered more Sea Harriers.(72)
Harriers were also important in the 1990-91 Gulf War and in NATO’s action in Kosovo in 1999 and elsewhere.(73)