Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 / FA.2 (XZ493)Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 / FA.2 (XZ493)

Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 / FA.2 (XZ493)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

As the World War II era carriers were slowly retired and with the cancellation in 1966 of the planned CVA-01 class of large aircraft carriers, the Royal Navy began to see the need for a vertical and/or short take-off and landing (VSTOL) carrier-based interceptor to replace the de Havilland Sea Vixen.   The first VSTOL tests on a ship began with a Hawker Siddeley P.1127 landing on HMS Ark Royal in 1963.   In 1973 the Invincible class (HMS Invincible, HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal) aircraft carriers were ordered.  Entering service in April 1980 the class was politically designated originally as “through deck cruiser” to deliberately avoid the term "aircraft carrier".  This increased the chances of funding from a hostile political climate against expensive capital ships.

In 1975 24 Sea Harrier FRS.1s (Fighter, Reconnaissance, Strike) were ordered to equip the three invincible class aircraft carries.  A development of the Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.3, the nose was lengthened to accommodate the Blue Fox AI radar, and the cockpit was raised to permit the installation of a more substantial avionics suite and to provide the pilot with a better all-round view.  The prototype FRS.1 was flown at Dunsfold on the 20th August 1978 powered by a Pegasus 14 (Mark 104) engine [photograph - below], a naval version of the Pegasus 11 (Mk 103) which powered the RAFs GR.3, and the type entered service in 1979 at RNAS Yeovilton to form an Intensive Flying Trials Unit (also known as 700A Naval Air Squadron).  The first three Sea Harriers were a development batch and were used for clearance trials during 1978.  Between 1978 and 1988 57 FRS.1s were delivered.  The T.4N (3 built) was a two-seat training version with the avionics (excluding radar) based on the FRS.1.  Powered by the Pegasus 14 (Mark 104) engine it was otherwise similar to the RAF T.4A Harrier trainer.

Pegasus 14 (Mark 104)

The ski-jump technique for launching Harriers from Royal Navy aircraft carriers was extensively trialled at RNAS Yeovilton from 1978.  Following these tests ski-jumps were added to the flight decks of all Royal Navy carriers from 1979.  The FRS.1 variant was declared operational in 1981 on board HMS Invincible with the newly formed 800 NAS.  800 NAS were transferred later in the year to the ageing HMS Hermes aircraft carrier and 801 NAS was formed in January 1981 to operate the variant from HMS Invincible.  As a result of nationalisation in 1977 Hawker Siddeley became part of British Aerospace and so the type became known as the British Aerospace Sea Harrier FRS.1.

Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 / FA.2 (XZ493)

Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 / FA.2 (XZ493)  [@ Fleet Air Arm Museum]

Armed with Sidewinder AAMs, the Sea Harrier FRS.1 distinguished itself in the 1982 Falklands war.  The type was the only fixed-wing fighter available to protect the British Task Force.  Sea Harriers shot down 20 enemy aircraft during the conflict with one loss due to enemy ground fire.  They were also used in the ground attack role to support the RAF GR.3s.  After the Falklands War, the Sea Harrier was fitted with the new anti-ship Sea Eagle missile.  The Sea Harrier also saw service in both of the Gulf Wars and in the Balkans conflict.

Built at Dunsfold, XZ493 was first flown on the 26th November 1980.  Delivered to the Royal Navy at RNAS  Yeovilton on the 7th January 1981 and became the first aircraft of the newly formed 801 NAS on the 28th January 1981.  XZ493 was flown onto HMS Invincible moored at Portsmouth on the 4th April 1982, a day before departure to the Falklands War.  XZ493 was used during the conflict to provide CAP (Combat Air Patrol) Missions to protect the ships of the Task Force, helicopters and the ground troops after they had landed.   CAP missions also included the bombing of Argentinian positions.  XZ493 returned to the UK with HMS Invincible on the 17th September 1982 and transferred to 800 NAS.  Until 1994 ZX494 went on to serve with 899 NAS, 801 NAS and 800 NAS.  On the 15th December 1994 XZ493 crashed into the Adriatic while on approach to HMS Invincible.  Later salvaged from a depth of 720m the remains were taken on the 25th October 1995 to BAe Dunsforld for rebuild before going on display at the museum in 2000.

Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 / FA.2 (ZA176)

Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 / FA.2 (ZA176)  [@ Newark Air Museum]

As a result of feedback from the Falklands conflict the Sea Harrier force was upgraded to FA.2 standard.  Powered by a Pegasus 11-21 (Mk 106), a naval version of the Pegasus 11-21 (Mk 105) engine, the prototype FA.2 first flew for the first time in September 1988 and a contract was signed in December for 29 FRS.1s to be upgraded.  The forward fuselage was redesigned to accommodate the Ferranti Blue Vixen pulse-Doppler radar, the avionics suite was wholly upgraded and the aircraft armed with the AIM-120 AMRAAM medium range air-to-air missile enabling it to engage multiple targets beyond visual range.  In 1990 the Royal Navy ordered 18 new FA.2s to be built and this was followed in 1994 by an order for a further four.  The first of the new aircraft entered service on the 2nd April 1993.  Two RAF Harrier T.4 trainers were transferred to the Royal Navy and together with the T.4Ns were fitted with FA.2 avionics to become T.8 trainers for the FA.2.

ZA176 was first flown at Dunsfold on the 25th November 1981 and delivered to the Royal Navy as an FRS.1 on the 16th December 1981.  Placed into storage at RAF St Athan ZA176 was assigned to 809 NAS at RNAS Yeovilton on the 6th April 1982 at the start of the Falklands Conflict.  With Victor tanker support ZA176 was flown on the 30th April 1982 via Banjul in the Gambia to Ascension Island.  Flown on to the Atlantic Conveyor on the 6th May for the journey south, ZA176 was transferred to 800 NAS and joined the squadron on board HMS Hermes on the 18th May.  ZA176 was used during the conflict to provide CAP (Combat Air Patrol) Missions.  Returning from the Falklands ZA176  left HMS Hermes in the Bay of Biscay and flew to RNAS Yeovilton on the 19th July.   Transferred to 809 NAS ZA176 set sail for the Falkland Islands on board HMS Illustrious on the 2nd August 1982.  Returning to RNAS Yeovilton on the 6th December 1982 ZA176 was transferred to 801 NAS.  On the 7th July 1983 ZA176, while operating from HMS Illustrious, was forced to land on the Spanish freighter Alraigo after suffering a NAVHARS failure.  ZA176 was offloaded at Santa Cruz de Tenerife and returned to the UK aboard the MV British Tay.  Transferred to 899 NAS ZA176 then served with 801 NAS on board HMS Ark Royal from 19th January 1988 and in August 1990 was assigned to 800 NAS.  On the 22nd February 1992 ZA176 was flown from RNAS Yeovilton to Dunsfold for conversion to FA.2 standard.  Allocated to 899 NAS at RNAS Yeovilton on the 11th November 1993 ZA176 was later transferred to 801 NAS on board HMS Illustrious to fly operational sorties during the Bosnian conflict.  ZA176 was later transferred on the 24th September 2001 to 800 NAS on board HMS Ark Royal and then in 2002 to 801 NAS also on HMS Ark Royal.  Finally withdrawn from service on the 20th September 2003 ZA176 was used as spares at AMG Yeovilton before entering the museum on the 21st July 2004.

Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 / FA.2 (ZE694)

Hawker Siddeley Sea Harrier FRS.1 / FA.2 (ZE694)  [@ Coventry Air Museum]

ZE694 was first flown on the 8th March 1988 at Dunsfold.  Delivered to the Royal Navy in the following October as an FRS.1 and converted to FA.2 standard during 1996.

The type was withdrawn early from Royal Navy service in March 2006 (the last being 801 NAS on the 29th March 2006) since it was considered to be too expensive to install higher rated Pegasus engines.  Replaced by ex-RAF Harrier GR.7s and GR.9s, the Royal Navy's Fleet Air Arm operated as an element of the Joint Force Harrier until premature retirement a few years later due to budget cuts.   A number of aircraft were retained by the School of Flight Deck Operations at RNAS Culdrose.  In the longer term the intended replacement will be the Lockheed Martin's F-35B Lightning II.  In May 2012 the UK government reverted back to purchasing the F-35B instead of the F-35C citing the cost of re-equipping the new Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers.  The F-35C is the carrier variant and is a naval version of the F-35A.  The second operational squadron of the F-35B will be 809 NAS.  One of the Royal Navy requirements for the F-35B design was a Shipborne Rolling and Vertical Landing (SRVL) mode to increase maximum landing weight to bring back unused ordnance by using wing lift during landing.

Lockheed Martin F-35A - a full scale model

Lockheed Martin F-35A  [@ RAF Hendon]

The photograph above shows a full sized model of a F-35A, which is the is the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant.

In 1979 India placed its first order for 6 FRS.51 Sea Harriers, the first three of which arrived at Dabolim Airport on the 16th December 1983.  The FRS.51 was similar to the Royal Navy’s FRS.1 but was fitted with Matra R550 Magic air-to-air missiles.  Eventually a total of 30 FRS.51s were procured, 25 for operational use and 5 T.60 dual-seat trainers.  The variant is still in active use in the Indian Navy.