Sea Harrier FA.2s and Harrier T.8 at RNAS Culdrose Air Day 2016

A collection of images of British Aerospace Harriers conducting ground runs during the RNAS Culdrose Air Day 2016

All photographs kindly contributed by Dave Taskis (please take time to visit his blog by clicking here).

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Hawker Siddeley P.1127 XP984 at Brooklands Museum

A collection of pictures of Hawker Siddeley P.1127 XP984 on display at the Brooklands Museum in Surrey.

All photos were taken on April 5th 2016
Photos: Tony Wilkins

The sixth P.1127 technology demonstrator, XP984 essentially served as the prototype for the Kestrel FGA.1 which was evaluated by Britain, West Germany and the United States (as the XV-6A Kestrel) under the Tri-partite Evaluation Squadron (TES). Built in 1964 the aircraft introduced a new swept wing as opposed to the earlier design. Power came from the Rolls-Royce Pegasus 5 vectoring turbofan engine which produced 15,000lbs of dry thrust.

The aircraft was damaged in an accident at RAE Bedford on October 31st 1975 when the pilot lost directional control in a strong cross wind and bailed out. The aircraft slammed in to the ground from a low altitude and was declared a write-off.

For more images of British military equipment and museums please visit the Galleries section or follow Defence of the Realm on Instagram

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Hawker Hunter T.8

Hunter T.8 2

Hunter T.8 (


  • Role: Two-seat advanced trainer
  • Powerplant: Rolls-Royce Avon 122 (7,550lbs dry thrust)
  • Max Speed: 694mph
  • Service Ceiling: 47,000ft
  • Ferry Range: 1900miles (with external tanks)
  • Wingspan: 33ft 8in
  • Length: 48ft 10in
  • Height: 13ft 2in

Up until 1939 the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm (FAA) were subservient to the Royal Air Force and as such nearly the entire inventory of FAA aircraft were simply naval versions of the RAF’s own aircraft. Upon gaining independence from the RAF the FAA was finally able to stipulate its own requirements for aircraft and the British military aviation industry branched off in to two sectors – land based for the RAF and carrier based for the FAA. There were of course exceptions and the most notable being the Hawker Sea Hurricane, the Supermarine Seafire and De Havilland’s early jets such as the Vampire and Venom but these were seen as stop-gaps until the resources became available to develop entirely new aircraft.

In the post war period the FAA operated a plethora of jet powered combat types ranging from the relatively simple Supermarine Attacker up to the powerful De Havilland Sea Vixen with plans on the horizon for the even more sophisticated Blackburn Buccaneer and McDonnell Douglas Phantom. The problem was that the training infrastructure in place for the FAA was falling behind the frontline aircraft and so the gap between the lead-in fighter trainers such as the Hawker Fury and the operational conversion units was rapidly growing.

Therefore in the mid-to-late 1950s the FAA looked at options to acquire a new and more capable advanced trainer to plug the gap. After evaluating several options the FAA decided that it would reverse its policy on acquiring jets designed specifically for them and acquire the training version of the RAF’s superlative Hawker Hunter, the Hunter T.7, but tailored to their needs. This produced the Hunter T.8 and this in turn spawned several sub-variants.

Hawker Hunter T.8

In outlining its requirement for the Hunter the FAA decided against making the Hunter carrier-capable as this would increase development (and subsequently unit) costs but the aircraft would have to train FAA pilots in the delicate and dangerous art of carrier landings. To do this a series of arrestor wires could be stretched across the runway at a shore based training station to simulate a carrier deck allowing the pilots to practice making carrier approaches. In order to catch the wire the Hunter T.8 was fitted with a tail hook but this was not strong enough to bring the aircraft to a full halt. It would simply pull on the arrestor wire to allow a ground instructor to grade the landing by the student pilot.

As well as training pilots how to land on a carrier the Hunters were also employed as lead-in fighter trainers teaching pilots the skills necessary for basic air-to-air and air-to-ground combat before moving on to a conversion unit where these skills would be built upon depending on the aircraft and role they would undertake operationally. The first unit to receive the Hunter T.8 was No.726 NAS based at RNAS Lossiemouth. A total of 35 Hunter T.8s were built or converted from ex-RAF Hunter F.4s and served with No.726 NAS and No.764 NAS.

Hunter T.8B

The Blackburn Buccaneer S.1 offered a whole new dimension to the Fleet Air Arm’s ability to fly low and fast but the lack of a dedicated trainer version meant that the FAA turned to the Hunter to fill the gap. Four aircraft were converted to act as trainers for the Buccaneer and featured among other Buccaneer systems a TACAN navigation suite. The new variant was designated the Hunter T.8B and remained in service until the Buccaneer S.2 was withdrawn in 1978 but the RAF would later adopt a similar aircraft for the same role when they inherited the navy’s Buccaneer force.

Hawker Hunter T.8C

Ten of the ex-RAF Hunter F.4s converted to T.8 standard in the early 1960s were fitted with TACAN navigation suites. A tactical air navigation system, commonly referred to by the acronym TACAN, is a navigation system used by military aircraft. It provides the aircrew with a bearing and distance in relation to a ground- or ship-based station. These aircraft were delivered to No.759 NAS at RNAS Brawdy in North Wales and received the peculiar designation of T.8C and were used to train pilots preparing to join a Scimitar or Sea Vixen (later Phantom FG.1) squadron where using these systems were an integral part of flying. A number of observers were also trained in the system’s use.

Later Service

Hunter T.8

As the Royal Navy began scaling back its carrier force such a large training organization was no longer needed and so the three squadrons were disbanded and their personnel and aircraft amalgamated in to a single training squadron based at RNAS Yeovilton under the banner of No.899 NAS. For a very brief time this was the Royal Navy’s only operational fast jet unit between the retirement of HMS Ark Royal and the delivery of the first Sea Harrier FRS.1s.

As well as traditional training tasks the Hunter T.8/8Cs also acted as adversaries for the Royal Navy’s surface fleet training naval gunners and surface-to-air missile (SAM) operators in acquiring high speed low level attack jets. For this role the aircraft were modified with a Harley light in the nose that made the aircraft more visible to new gunners. Once the gunners became more proficient the light would be turned off to provide a more realistic target. This training would prove invaluable during the 1982 Falklands Conflict particularly during the landings at San Carlos.

Between the late 1970s and early 1980s the Hunters were slowly passed to the civilian operated Fleet Requirements and Direction Unit (FRADU) who continued to use them in the target role for surface ships. They were eventually replaced by British Aerospace Hawks.

Hunter T.8M

Hawker Hunter T.8M

Hunter T.8 (

One of the most well-known naval variants of the Hunter in FAA service were the small number of Hunter T.8Ms. The introduction of the Sea Harrier FRS.1 brought with it new problems regarding training of aircrew. It was a totally new form of air operations and the navy’s version was different still being fitted with the large Blue Fox radar. The FAA used two seat Harriers to train their pilots how to fly the aircraft but these lacked the weapon system and it would have been impractical to develop a Harrier trainer with the radar.

Therefore the decision was taken to fit the radar and its accompanying systems to a handful of Hunter T.8s to train the Sea Harrier pilots how to use the weapon system operationally. This produced arguably the most attractive version of the Hunter and many viewed it as a taste of the potential the aircraft had in the late fifties had development continued. The trainee pilot could fly the Hunter T.8M almost exactly like the Sea Harrier FRS.1 bar of course the V/STOL capability and this meant that the aircraft could theoretically have a wartime role of rear guard air defence. As well as the Blue Fox radar the aircraft was wired to carry an AIM-9L Sidewinder acquisition training round to simulate firing the live weapon.

Despite the success of the aircraft no new variant was developed to train FAA pilots on the Sea Harrier FA.2 with its far more sophisticated Blue Vixen radar. Instead the FAA adopted a combination of flight time in the two seat Harrier trainer and ground tuition.

BAe Sea Harrier FRS.1


  • Crew: 1
  • Role: Multi-role Naval Combat Aircraft
  • Length: 47 ft 7 in (14.5 m)
  • Wingspan: 25 ft 3 in (7.6 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 2 in (3.71 m)
  • Empty weight: 14,052 lb (6,374 kg)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 26,200 lb (11,900 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Rolls-Royce Pegasus mk.104 vectored thrust turbofan, 21,500 lbs (95.64 kN)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 0.9 (737 mph)
  • Ferry range: 1,740 miles
  • Service ceiling: 51,000 ft
  • Armament:
    2-4× AIM-9 Sidewinders
    2× 30 mm ADEN guns
    8,000lbs of ordinance on external stores

In 1979, HMS Ark Royal (R09) was formally decommissioned bringing an end to conventional fixed wing flight in the Royal Navy. The newest ships coming in to service were designed to operate helicopters but it was found they could also operate Harrier V/STOL aircraft. Handed a lifeline, the Fleet Air Arm placed an order for 34 Sea Harriers; a modified version of the RAF’s Harrier GR.3 incorporating radar and air-to-air missiles for the air defence role. Thus one of the most iconic aircraft to have ever served in the Fleet Air Arm was born.

In the aftermath of the Sea Harrier’s superlative performance as a traditional fighter in the Falklands War it has long been forgotten that this was not the role envisioned for the type in the 1970s. The Admiralty knew that they weren’t fielding an aircraft on a par with the rest of NATO and the Soviet air forces (at least on paper) and instead planned to use it to simply protect the fleet from lumbering maritime patrol and bomber aircraft such as the Il-38 “May” and the Tu-95 “Bear” where it wouldn’t have to ‘mix it’ with fighters. Even after the Falklands this remained the primary mission of the aircraft with a secondary attack and reconnaissance role.

Power for the Sea Harrier came from a Rolls-Royce Pegasus thrust vectoring turbofan engine which was also what gave the aircraft its vertical take-off capability by directing thrust downwards around the aircraft’s centre of gravity. The Sea Harrier had a level speed of 735mph with a service ceiling of 51,000ft which are impressive when you consider that the Rolls-Royce Pegasus is a non-afterburning engine. Although range figures vary depending on what load is carried the Sea Harrier is quoted at having a combat range of around 600 miles with external fuel tanks.

The Sea Harrier was fitted with the Blue Fox air intercept radar which had both air-to-air and air-to-surface modes. It was hardly a modern radar set even in 1978 and lacked many of the modes that could be found on the RAF’s frontline fighters such as the Phantom FGR.2. It was good enough for the original role envisioned however and it was expected to be under ground or ship control up until the intercept point. It could track around twelve targets at a time (some sources claim more but this is disputed) but had very little look down/shoot down capability. It was far superior to the Sapfir-23 radar which is what the export MiG-21 and MiG-23s were fitted with and at one time China was looking at fitting it to their version of the MiG-21, the J-7, for sale to Pakistan. The Sea Harrier also had an excellent radar warning receiver, the Sky Guardian, which was almost the standard set for British aircraft in the 80s.

The Sea Harrier FRS.1 was equipped with the excellent AIM-9L Sidewinder which introduced all-aspect detection capability meaning a pilot didn’t have to get on an enemy plane’s tail to acquire the target. The missile had a powerful fragmentation warhead which meant that even a proximity hit could do potentially fatal damage to a single-engined aircraft. In the fighter role the AIM-9 was backed up by two ventral 30 mm guns whose mounting was designed to help give the aircraft increased stability. The aircraft had a wide range of unguided weapons available to it from rockets to bombs and the maximum warload was around 8,000lbs spread out between a total of five pylons (excluding the two dedicated 30mm cannons). A seldom carried weapon that was nonetheless available to the Sea Harrier was the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile which was a potent open ocean weapon and was capable of disabling all but the largest warship.

In the Falklands War the Sea Harrier dominated the skies over the South Atlantic. The Argentinian pilots in the 1960s-era Dassault Mirage III fighters were unable to match its sophisticated weapon system. After the war the aircraft returned to its original role of protecting the fleet against Soviet air power however towards the late 1980s the introduction of the Sukhoi Su-27K (Su-33) “Flanker” naval fighter demanded the aircraft be upgraded and this produced the Sea Harrier F/A-2.

See Also

BAe Sea Harrier FRS.1 XZ493/001/N at Yeovilton Fleet Air Arm Museum

A Falklands War veteran this aircraft served aboard HMS Invincible with No.801 NAS during the conflict. It continued in service after the war with several squadrons until on the 15th December 1994 it crashed in the Adriatic ocean following the loss of yaw control during the hover phase. The aircraft was recovered but never flew again. Instead it was stripped of any useful parts before being put in storage. Then in 1995 it was decided to start work on restoring it to display condition and now resides in Hall 4 of the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton in Somerset.

Photos were taken on January 3rd 2015

The RAF Harrier’s Baptism of Fire

RAF Hawker Harrier GR3

Much has been written about the Royal Navy’s Sea Harrier force in the Falklands War. The story of the handful of fighters battling vastly superior numbers of Argentinian aircraft has become the stuff of military aviation legend but this largely overshadowed the RAF’s contribution with its Harrier GR.3. In all 10 aircraft were deployed to take part in Operation: Corporate – the British name for the operation to retake the Falkland Islands from Argentina in 1982 but when news of the invasion reached No.1 Squadron back in the UK the pilots and ground crews were more preoccupied with an impending deployment to Canada for a NATO exercise and possibly even a starring role in an upcoming BBC documentary series.

The truth of the matter was that the Royal Air Force found itself at war uncertain to just what use it could be. The Falkland Islands were located at least four thousand miles from a friendly air base well out of the range of the RAF’s aircraft without air-to-air refuelling and even then only a handful of the RAF’s types were equipped to undertake this. There were rumours that Avro Vulcans would be used as conventional bombers but other than that it looked as though the RAF would spend much of the war in the logistics role supporting the Navy. Very soon however questions began to be asked about whether the RAF’s Harrier force could operate aboard the Royal Navy’s carriers

Harrier trials aboard HMS Eagle in 1970

Harrier trials aboard HMS Eagle in 1970

On paper there seemed no real reason why not. The older model Harrier GR.1 had undertaken sea trials aboard RN carriers during the 1970s and the Royal Navy’s Sea Harrier FRS.1 was basically an RAF Harrier GR.3 fitted with a radar and engine components more suited to working at sea. The problem however was that only a handful of RAF pilots were qualified in operating off a carrier and even then most of those were already with the Navy to shore up their number of pilots. One such pilot was Flt Lt David Morgan who would down three Argentine combat aircraft in the Sea Harrier. If the Ministry of Defence was serious about sending the RAF and their Harrier GR.3s in to the fray then the pilots would have to quickly learn how to undertake carrier landing and take-offs and get their aircraft ready for combat in the South Atlantic. What this meant was that when the Royal Navy left port to head south the RAF was not onboard and would have to join them later.

MV Atlantic Conveyor

MV Atlantic Conveyor

A week after the islands were invaded it was looking increasingly likely that the RAF’s Harriers would be taking part. In order to get them there a container ship called Atlantic Conveyor was considered and an RAF detachment went to Liverpool Docks to assess the vessel. Atlantic Conveyor was less than a month old and the RAF determined that with just a few modifications she could safely land Harriers and perhaps the even more important Chinook helicopter; a key asset in the planning of the land campaign once troops were on the ground.

The question that was hanging on the lips of the planners however is just how best to use the RAF’s Harrier. The most obvious answer was to use it to support the troops on the ground by providing close air support. This was the very role the aircraft had been tailored for and was what the RAF pilots trained for in Germany. The fear that was developing in the Ministry of Defence however as the taskforce sailed south was that the Royal Navy’s Sea Harrier force would be overwhelmed by enemy numbers that were far in excess of the the twenty aircraft sat on the decks of the two carriers, HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible. This fact was not lost on the personnel of No.1 Squadron who were asking for consideration to be given to fitting the AIM-9 Sidewinder infra-red air-to-air missile. Initially the AIM-9G version would be carried by the Harrier GR.3 but later the more sophisticated and capable AIM-9L version would be adopted as this was the type that the Navy were using and had plenty of stores onboard the carriers already. If the Sea Harriers did take heavy losses then the RAF Harrier GR.3s would certainly be used as a fighter.

AIM-9 armed Harrier GR.3

AIM-9 armed Harrier GR.3

There was a mixed response regarding the aircraft being used in this way. On the one hand the RAF pilots were established dogfighters having trained thoroughly for the within visual range arena but only in a self defence capacity. If they were to take on an air combat role in the South Atlantic they would have to perform Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) to defend ships and possibly ground troops despite lacking an all important air interception radar. This would mean that the intercepts would have to be handled by the ships of the taskforce in what is known in military parlance as Ground Control Interception (GCI). The Harriers were quickly fitted with the LAU/7 launch rails necessary to carry the Sidewinder scrounged from the RAF’s Phantom force.

Meanwhile work continued on getting the aircraft and pilots ready for carrier operations. A number of modifications to the GR.3 were deemed essential for carrier operations and these therefore took priority such as the fitting of shackles to tether the aircraft to the deck. Another problem that needed addressing was that the aircraft’s Instrument Navigation System (INS) was designed to work from a fixed point at take off. When operating from a carrier the aircraft is never truly standing still like on land and if not calibrated properly to take this in to consideration then the normal navigational error margin is increased many times over. Given the amount of commonality between the Harrier GR.3 and the Royal Navy’s Sea Harrier these problems were rectified without too much trouble.

Sea Harrier using ski jump

Sea Harrier using ski-jump

By mid-April RAF Harrier pilots were at RNAS Yeovilton undergoing carrier take off training using the dummy ski-jump. The ski-jump was a novel invention designed to allow the Sea Harrier to take off from an aircraft carrier with greater ease and safety (if the ship was pitching in stormy weather then the aircraft was thrown up away from the sea). As the trials were being undertaken the RAF received confirmation that they were to deploy to the Falklands to support the Sea Harriers. Things began to move a lot faster for the squadron with this news. Ten aircraft were chosen to participate in the operation and these received the most attention to get them ready.

In the meantime it was looking increasingly likely that the Harrier would undertake some kind of fighter role. To that end the Harrier pilots managed to arrange some vital training thanks to the French Armée de l’Air (French air force) who had a handful of Mirage IIIs at RAF Conningsby. This was the same aircraft that formed the backbone of the Argentine fighter force and now the RAF pilots could train against them as well as take a flight in the backseat of the trainer version. It was vital experience for the RAF who could now formulate the best tactics for using the Harrier against the delta winged fighter. Perhaps even more vitally the French Navy made their Super Etendard aircraft available for air combat training over the English Channel. This was the aircraft that carried the Argentine Exocet missile and was a high priority target. Many people in the UK held resentment to the French believing they were on the side of the Argentinians since they sold them so many weapons before the war. The reality is that France came to Britain’s aid when the war broke out by stopping the flow of supplies for the Exocets, enforcing an economic embargo against Argentina and provide training such as this all of which contributed greatly to the British war effort.

The RAF Harrier was now close to working up to being ready for combat. There was even an opportunity to train with the British Army’s 5 Brigade who would be going to the Falklands as well. On the morning of May 1st the Harrier pilots selected for the Falklands campaign learned that some of their compatriots in an Avro Vulcan B.2 had undertaken the longest bombing mission in history the night before and struck the airfield at Port Stanley. It was a huge morale boost to know that after being unsure what combat role the RAF would take in the conflict; now they had fired the opening shots and in dramatic fashion. On 2nd May the Defence Secretary, John Nott, visited the pilots at RAF Witterring and informed them that he expects an escalation of the conflict soon and that they will be a vital part of that.

Harrier GR.3s refuelling from Victor tanker

Harrier GR.3s refuelling from Victor tanker

The next day the RAF’s Harriers took off for the Ascension Islands, the midway staging point for Operation: Corporate. The plan was for the aircraft to go down in waves supported by a tanker. However all did not go according to plan as the Victor tanker with the first wave had trouble taking on fuel itself and therefore only had enough to get two Harriers to Ascension while the third got diverted. It took two days to get the entire Harrier force down to Ascension by which time Atlantic Conveyor had arrived and was ready to embark the Harriers and Chinooks. The time at Ascension was not all fun and games however as the RAF Harriers were employed as point defence fighters for the island. Just what the threat was while they were at Ascension is unclear but was most likely to do with Argentine reconnaissance aircraft.

While at Ascension, news of how the war was going was hitting home that this wasn’t going to be a bloodless victory. Hot on the heels of the apparent success of the Vulcan bombing mission came news that the Argentine cruiser, the ARA Belgrano, had been sunk by a British submarine and the Royal Navy’s Sea Harriers appeared to be winning the fight against the Argentine air force. Then the news came on May 4th that HMS Sheffield had been hit by an Exocet missile. Less than a week in to the fighting there were already the highs and lows of war.

RAF and RN Harriers covered up on Atlantic Conveyor

RAF and RN Harriers covered up on Atlantic Conveyor

On the 6th May the Harriers embarked aboard the MV Atlantic Conveyor. For most of the pilots it was their first time landing aboard a ship and the tight confines of the container ship were perhaps more challenging than landing on the carriers themselves. A handful of Royal Navy Sea Harrier FRS.1s that weren’t ready to go when the taskforce left the UK were also onboard. During the transit south the aircraft were covered up to protect them from the salt water spray as the ship made its way through what was a worsening South Atlantic winter. During the journey an Argentinian Boeing 707 maritime reconnaissance aircraft was detected nearby and one of the Sea Harriers was made ready for flight to intercept it. The aircraft would have to take off vertically and meet a tanker if it had any chance of success but in the end no attempt was made. In a second instance the Sea Harrier was launched but the mission is cancelled soon after as the aircraft proved to be an RAF tanker rather than a Argentinian Boeing 707.

HMS Hermes in 1982

HMS Hermes in 1982

The RAF Harriers got within range of HMS Hermes on Thursday 18th April by which time the Royal Navy Sea Harrier force had been in combat for nearly three weeks. In that time they had shown the Argentinians that they were a force to reckoned with but at the same time they had lost three aircraft and pilots; two in a mid air collision due to appalling weather and one to ground fire. It is therefore understandable that the ‘late comers’ in the RAF Harrier force were not exactly welcomed with open arms by some aboard Hermes especially her Captain, Lin Middleton, who had a known dislike of the RAF. Nevertheless the RAF pressed on and settled themselves in to their new home aboard the carrier and it was not a moment too soon for the British were about to start the next phase of the war; landing troops on the Falklands. While at first the Harrier GR.3s looked like they would be used as fighters it was decided that given their superlative performance so far against the Argentinians it would be better to free up the Sea Harriers of the ground attack role by giving this job to the RAF leaving the Sea Harriers to the fighter role.

Harrier GR.3s and Sea Harriers share deck space on Hermes

Harrier GR.3s and Sea Harriers share deck space on Hermes

However just one day after arriving on Hermes two Harrier GR.3s on a training exercise were suddenly called in to action to intercept another marauding Boeing 707 maritime reconnaissance aircraft. Vectored in by naval radar the 707 turned away from the taskforce and disappeared from radar as it went below the ships’ horizon. The RAF Harriers pursued intending to use the good old fashioned “Mark One Eyeball” to find it but to no avail. Although no shots were fired (in fact had they intercepted the 707 their orders were to persuade it to leave rather than shoot at it) the Harrier GR.3 had now entered the Falklands War.

Having completed the transfer of the RAF Harriers from Atlantic Conveyor to HMS Hermes it was now time for the Harrier GR.3 to get stuck in to the fight. It was May 20th, the day before the British landings at San Carlos, when they finally got their chance to do what they do best; attacking enemy ground forces. Their first target was a fuel and lubricant storage depot at Fox Bay on West Falkland where the Argentinian 8th Motorised Infantry and 9th Engineer Company were stationed. It had been the scene of several attacks by the Royal Navy already including one on May 16th when Sea Harriers strafed an Argentine Navy support ship the ARA Bahía Buen Suceso with gun fire rendering it immobile.

The aircraft were armed with BL755 cluster bombs, a common weapon for the GR.3 in Germany. The BL755 was designed to dispense 147 small submunitions over a wide area in order to disable or destroy lightly armoured vehicles. It also has a secondary anti-personnel role. It was selected for this mission because the fuel storage tanks were spread out so a small number of aircraft could cover a wider area with these submunitions than conventional bombs thus increasing the damage. Given that the Argentinians were more or less cut off from the mainland at that point any loss of supplies would be a massive blow.

At 1400hrs the RAF Harriers took off for their first combat mission of the war. They were afforded fighter cover by the Royal Navy’s Sea Harriers whose success in the air had by now had earned them the nickname La muerta negra (the black death) by Argentine pilots. Bad weather played a major part in the planning phase and they had three possible approach routes to take. The RAF approached the target at high altitude in order to conserve fuel but as they neared the islands they dropped to low level to reduce the chances of detection by any curious Argentine radars.

GR.3 with LRMTS

GR.3 with LRMTS

Closing in on the target area the pilots readied their weapon system. The Harrier GR,3 was far more capable in the ground attack role than the Sea Harrier thanks largely to its Laser Rangefinder and Marked Target Seeker (LRMTS) which is what gives the GR,3 its distinctive prod-like nose. This was a laser that was fired at the target area to determine range and angle. This information was then fed in to a computer that presented target information on to the Heads-Up Display in the cockpit for the pilot to make corrections.

The Harriers dropped their cluster bombs on to the target area arriving totally undetected. A large area was sprayed with submunitions causing numerous secondary explosions indicating that the fuel and lubricant oils were igniting. They had hit their target and were soon escaping out to sea before the Argentines could respond.

The Harriers landed back aboard Hermes a short while later and in doing so made good on all the effort made in the 1960s and 1970s to give the RAF a truly viable V/STOL combat aircraft. The Harrier had finally laid to rest any further criticism of the concept because no other aircraft in the RAF could have been committed to the war on such a level as the Harrier with its ability to land and take off anywhere. That’s not to say that the RAF’s Harrier force had it easy in the Falklands. On the contrary; four aircraft were lost on operations but they provided vital close air support to the troops on the ground and earned the same respect as their Royal Navy counterparts.

There is good reason why the Harrier is remembered as fondly as the Spitfire and the Lancaster in the UK.