The Harrier story

The world's only truly successful VTOL fighter

In 2019 the Harrier entered its 50th year of operational service. Although no longer in service in the UK, the USMC currently plans to operate the aircraft until around 2026 – a remarkable feat for an aircraft designed in the 1960s and real tribute to Hawkers/BAe and Bristol/Rolls Royce as well as the French designer Michael Wibault who pioneered the concept of vectored thrust.

The Harrier has been the world’s only truly successful VTOL fighter. It was developed in response to a NATO requirement for a platform capable of dispersed operations, immune from runway attack, and capable of operating close to the front line from disused roads and fields. The combined high power to weight ratio thrust vector capability soon revealed the aircraft’s ability to out-climb and out-manoeuvre most contemporary fighters of the time. The Harrier soon found its way into the Royal Navy where it proved itself in the Falklands War in conditions that no other aircraft could possibly operate. It has since proved itself in numerous other operations around the globe. Only now, some 50 years later, does the F-35 Lightning II stand to challenge the Harrier’s unique operational capability, robustness and reliability.