Originating in Great Britain, the Harrier attracted the interest of the Marine Corps in 1966 because of its unique ability to land and take off vertically like a helicopter. This enabled it to operate from makeshift airfields near the front lines or small deck amphibious assault ships, thereby providing a quick response in the close air support of ground troops. “An aircraft which is deployed and based as simply as a helicopter, but which packs the punch of a conventional attack aircraft is going to have a far-reaching effect on military aviation,” Major General Homer S. Hill told a Congressional committee in 1970. That year, the Marine Corps ordered 102 AV-8A Harriers and eight 2-seat trainers (TAV-8A), the aircraft essentially the same as British Royal Air Force Harriers, but with American avionics, flight control and weapons systems. The last of this batch was delivered in 1976, though 47 AV-8As were converted to the AV-8C configuration beginning in 1979, the addition of warning radar equipment in the tail and a flare/chaff dispenser improving the aircraft’s survivability on the modern battlefield.
The AV-8Cs were an interim measure to bridge the gap until a greater number of AV-8B Harrier IIs entered service. While outwardly resembling the earlier Harriers, a notable difference being more of a bubble canopy, the AV-8B is a new and totally different aircraft that incorporates a higher thrust engine (21,500 lb. vs. 20,000 lb.) giving about the same speed, but allowing for a much greater payload of 9,200 lb.
Flying the Harrier is unlike any other jet aircraft. It utilizes the concept of “Vectored Thrust,” in which turbine by-pass air is routed to one of two pairs of nozzles at the wing roots, while jet exhaust is directed through the second pair. The combined “thrusts” enable the Harrier to either hover or fly normally depending on the position of the nozzles, which can be rotated in unison along the longitudinal axis anywhere from straight aft for forward flight to a little forward of straight down for hover. Nozzle positions are controlled by a single lever near the throttle. To control the aircraft in the hover mode, during which speed is so slow that elevator and rudder surfaces are not operable, a reaction control system cuts in which enables high pressure bleed air to be routed to exhaust ducts called “puffers” or “puff pipes” at the wing tips, nose and tail. When the pilot moves the stick forward, the puffer under the tail emits air causing the nose to go down; and when he pulls it back, the puffer under the nose emits air causing the nose to go up. Similarly, side-to-side movement of the stick operates the puffers at the wing tips (inversely of course) causing the plane to roll; and puffers at the tail operated by the rudder pedals, blow air sideways to control “yaw.” As far as the pilot is concerned, the controls continue to operate normally.
British Harriers flew combat missions in the Falkland Islands War in 1982, during which forty-two were deployed for ground support, air defense, ship strikes, and reconnaissance. They shot down at least twenty Argentine aircraft without a single air-to-air loss. The first Marine Corps aircraft went to war almost twenty years later. During Operation Desert Storm, a total of eighty-six Harriers flew combat missions from both ship and shore, logging 3,380 sorties for 4,038 hours, and delivering over 5.95 million pounds of ordnance. Harriers also flew combat missions in support of Operation Allied Force, the sustained NATO air campaign against Kosovo in 1999, and continue to fly in support of operations in the Global War on Terror.
Originally delivered as an AV-8A Harrier on January 17, 1974, the museum's display aircraft (Bureau Number 158975) was redesignated an AV-8C in 1982, one of forty-seven AV-8As converted. Its initial operational service was in Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 513, in which it served until 1982 before making a deployment in the amphibious assault ship Nassau (LHA 4) with VMA-231. Subsequently the aircraft deployed in the amphibious assault ship Guadalcanal (LPH 7) with VMA 513. It also logged a cruise in the amphibious assault ship Tarawa (LHA 1).
Manufacturer: McDonnell Douglas Corporation (now Boeing)
Dimensions: Length: 45 ft., 7 in.; Height: 11 ft., 11 in.; Wingspan: 25 ft., 3 in.
Weights: Empty: 13,086 lb.; Gross: 25,200 lb.
Power Plant: One 21,500 lb. static thrust Rolls-Royce Pegasus 103F402-RR-401
Performance: Maximum Speed: 730 M.P.H., Service Ceiling: 51,200 ft.; Range: 414 miles
Armament: Provisions for 25mm cannon, Sidewinder and Maverick missiles, bombs, and rockets