For anyone, like me, who has grown older along with the Harrier, there is an interesting story in India Today prompted by the latest crash – the 17th – of an Indian Navy Sea Harrier. The story will seem familiar to anyone who has followed the Harrier’s operating career, and safety record, over the last four decades.
Over that span of time, the “jump jet’s” safety record has been a source of controversy more than once, but the unique operating advantages of V/STOL have ensured the Harrier’s continued survival. And, as with other military fast jets, pilot training and proper maintenance has often been the solution to the problems.
But the narrow margin for error or failure when the vectored-thrust Harrier is in vertical flight is one reason why Lockheed’s F-35 won the Joint Strike Fighter competition. It’s shaft-driven lift fan promises wider operating and safety margins in vertical flight. It is also complex, and it’s mechanical reliability will be paramount.