Second Generation Harriers
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".
Naval Strike Wing, HMS ILLUSTRIOUS, 2009.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many more to come - watch this space !