Second Generation Harriers, Land-based Harriers,
P1127 Kestrel & P1154 RN
GR.9 - 800 NAS Royal Navy, HMS ILLUSTRIOUS 2007.
Airfix with Heritage 100% LERX & Model Alliance decals.
For a very long time, the (old) Airfix Harrier II kit was one of the best available despite its raise dpanel line detail; its rear fuselage is far more accurate than the otherwise superb Hasegawa kit and most importantly it includes the very distinctive Harrier air brake and realistic jet nozzles. Since then, Airfix have produced a new mould that is even better. albeit with slightly overdone engraved panel lines.
The RN reluctantly gave up its FA2 Sea Harriers in 2006; the FA2's payload limitations in hot conditions had become very apparent in the Gulf and Balkans and the cost of upgrading the Pegasus engines to overcome this was unaffordable (similar issues affected the RAF's GR7 fleet). Instead, the RAF and RN Harrier forces combined on a single upgraded aircraft type under "Joint Force Harrier" (JFH), with 2 RN Squadrons and 2 RAF Squadrons operating the GR7, GR7A and more recently, the upgraded GR9, with its improved engine and precision weapons capabilities (primarily Brimstone, Maverick and advanced Paveway LGBs). However, with the GR9's minimal air to air capability, this change leaves the Fleet without an effective air defence force; a situation that will continue at least until the entry into service of the F-35 JSF, sometime after 2011.
RN pilots of 800 Naval Air Sqn, flying pooled JFH GR7As regularly deploy to Afghanistan, providing close support to UK & NATO ground forces on Operation HERRICK, most recently combined with elements of 801 Naval Air Sqn, as the "Naval Strike Wing".
- Fly Navy 100 Anniversary Scheme -
Airfix, with Model Alliance decals
For the 100th Anniversary of British Naval Aviation, one of the Naval Strike Wing's GR.9 aircraft was painted up in anniversary markings for the visit of HMS ILLUSTRIOUS to London in May 2009. In addition to its "Fly Navy 100" tail, the aircraft sports the latest overall Medium Sea Grey colour scheme, which is believed to be more appropriate for the current high altitude operations in Afghanistan.
GR.7 - 4 Sqn RAF, embarked in HMS ILLUSTRIOUS 2001.
Italeri, with modifications and Italeri paveway bombs.
Italeri issued a revised version of their Harrier II prototype kit as a GR.7, with some nice (although not entirely accurate) decals and weapons. Unfortunately these do not include the Paveway laser guided bombs worn by this model, which come from a separate Italeri weapons set.
The GR.7 introduced full night operating and precision weapon capability to the RAF's Harrier Fleet as well as a further uprated engine. Existing GR.5s were converted to the new standard. Although designed to operate at low level in the European Theatre, the GR.7 now operates at medium level and has been the backbone of RAF combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 1990s, proving to be a reliable and effective weapons platform. Since the creation of Joint Force Harrier, Fleet Air Arm pilots have also flown former RAF GR.7s, with the Naval Strike Wing sharing Afghanistan duties with the RAF.
GR.5 - 224 OCU RAF Wittering/Cottesmore 1989.
Italeri with various (substantial) putty modifications to the nose & Modeldecal markings.
This is the earliest issue Italeri AV-8B prototype with various (substantial) putty modifications to the nose & Modeldecal markings to convert it into a GR.5. More recently, this kit has been issued by Revell with the required modifications to make it as a GR.5 from the box.
The GR.5 was the RAF's first version of the second generation Harrier II, built jointly as the AV-8B with McDonnell Douglas (later Boeing). With longer range, greater weapon load and advanced avionics, it was, in effect, an entirely new type. The stubby GR.5 nose was designed to carry a Ferranti line scanning Infra Red system, but this was cancelled before entering service.
AV-8B+ - VMA231 "Ace of Spades" US Marine Corps 2001.
Hasegawa OOB. Italeri Mavericks
The AV-8B is the US designation of the Harrier II. The most advanced version is this AV-8B "plus", which has a substantial night and bad weather capability thanks to its Infra Red night vision system and its radar. The main user is the US Marine Corps, although the Italian and Spanish Navies also operate the AV-8B+ and are able to use the AMRAAM Air to Air missile from their aircraft, giving it a potent fighter capability.
AV-8B - 8 Escadrille Armada Espaniola (Spanish Navy), 2004.
Airfix with Sky Decals
The Spanish Navy were quick to adopt the AV-8B to replace their ageing AV-8S Matador first generation Harriers. This is an early aircraft, without night vision or radar systems; since then most have been converted to radar-equipped AV-8 plus standard.
- Gruppo Aerei Imbarcarti, Marina Militare (Italian Navy),
Airfix OOB. Based on the single seater kit with a different fuselage sprue.
The Harrier II is easier to fly than the first generation Harrier, but still worthy of a dedicated trainer. The two seater is fully combat capable and can be used as an extra strike aircraft, or as an "on the spot" Airborne Command Post to co-ordinate attacks.
GR.3 - 1417 Flight, Royal Air Force Belize, 1987.
Fujimi, largely out the box, but with the Ejector seat modified to look more like a Mk9.
Fujimi's Harrier kits are reasonably accurate, but not easy builds. This one represents an aircraft of 1417 Flt, RAF Belize in the mid 1980s. Whilst I was serving in HMS LIVERPOOL, during our 1987 "West Indies Guardship" deployment (its a dirty job, but someone has to do it!), we exercised with 1417 Flt off the coast of Belize, providing our splash target for them to practice attacking fast moving sea-borne targets with Aden Guns and Rockets. Our activities attracted much interest from heavily armed (and not altogether friendly) Honduran and Guatemalan gunboats, which added a little spice to the proceedings.
The GR.3, easily recognised by its extended nose fairing to house the laser target marker and range finder, was the RAF's second major Harrier variant, with improved avionics and uprated engines. Harriers were deployed to Belize from 1981 to 1993, in response to potential threats from Guatemala and Honduras. The aircraft were ideally suited to the rough deployed conditions, if occasionally limited by the temperature.
GR.1, 1 Sqn, RAF Wittering, December 1970.
ESCI AV-8A, 1/72, with Sky decals.
The first operational variant of the Harrier family was the GR.1 and up-powered GR.1A. Original performance from this radical aircraft was marginal, requiring that only the most skilled RAF pilots flew the Harrier.
Hawker P1127 Kestrel.
The P.1127 was a flying test-bed for the Pegasus engine and vectored thrust concept. As the Kestrel, nine aircraft were flown by a joint UK-US-West German evaluation squadron to determine tactics and capability for VSTOL operation. With the subsequent cancellation of the P.1154 (see below), the Kestrel was further developed into the operational GR.1 Harrier for the RAF.
Hawker P1154 RN.
Maintrack Project X Vacform - what if? markings for 804 Sqn, FAA.
The P1154 was the planned in-service version of the experimental P.1127. Two very different variants were proposed, a single seater ground attack aircraft for the RAF and a twin seater interceptor for the Fleet Air Arm.
These conflicting requirements could not be reconciled in a single airframe, and the growing divergence of the 2 designs helped to ensure that this project, like the TSR.2 would never see the light of day. The Fleet Air Arm bought the excellent F-4K Phantom instead, whilst a basic austerity version, based on the P.1127 but using some of the 1154 systems, was purchased for the RAF as the Harrier GR.1, and eventually developed into the superb Sea Harrier for the Fleet Air Arm.
Many more to come - watch this space !