While at Hawker Siddeley, in 1977, I worked my way into the Future Projects office. I arrived just as they were submitting a proposal for Air Staff Target 403, for an advanced STOVL fighter to replace the RAF’s Harriers and Jaguars. After I joined Flight, I returned to Hawkers to interview my ex-boss. I was recognised and waved through by security, only to meet a couple of former colleagues carrying a windtunnel model of the latest secret ASTOVL design down the stairs! (It was the P.1216, for secretprojects.co.uk afficionados).
My post-Hawker honeymoon ended when I displeased Harrier chief designer John Fozard by saying the UK should join the US in developing the AV-8B Harrier II rather than pursuing the homegrown “Big Wing” Harrier. But I’m quite sure the AV-8B cemented the UK-US V/STOL relationship and paved the way for the Harrier’s eventual replacement, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
STO-ing in the rain (US Navy photo)
Where the Harrier pioneered vectored-thrust V/STOL, the Harrier II with its carbonfibre wing could actually lift a useful payload. I found myself at McDonnell Douglas in St Louis for the AV-8B roll-out, only to hear then US Marine Corps Commandant P X Kelly forcefully declare that the "A in AV-8B means Attack, and if it's going to say Marines on the side it had better do it properly!". That caused a few mutters of "steady on, old chap" among the Brits in the audience.
While I lament the lack of Harrier curves in the shaped-by-stealth F-35B, I am looking forward to seeing all those doors open, fans rotate and nozzles swivel. But I don't think we'll see a Lightning II bow to the audience after its airshow.
Tim Hall's Harrier GR7 update of Frank Munger's AV-8B cutaway (Flight archives)