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At a time when the aviation world appeared to be preoccupied with producing larger and faster aircraft, the engineers at Hawker Siddeley Aviation were working on something radically different. A jet aircraft that possessed the ability to take off and land vertically, whilst retaining the capability of fast forward flight, allowing it to be operated away from vulnerable airfields and offer a distinct tactical advantage. Throughout the 1960s, Hawker Siddeley gradually perfected their design and set about turning their revolutionary new aircraft into a potent and highly adaptable warplane, capable of providing close air support to ground forces in even the most challenging of operational situations.
The Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1 entered Royal Air Force service in 1969 and over the next forty years, successive Harrier developments saw the aircraft mature into a highly effective combat aircraft for both the RAF and Royal Navy. In British service, the Harrier’s ‘finest hour’ came during the 1982 Falklands War, where Harrier operations proved pivotal in securing eventual victory for the British Task Force. The Sea Harrier proved to be particularly successful, flying over 1,400 sorties and claiming at least 20 aerial victories, without losing a single aircraft in air to air combat. Ending a forty-year infatuation with this incredible aircraft, Britain’s remaining Harriers were controversially retired in December 2010, with most airframes being sold to America as spares for the US Marine Corps fleet of AV-8B Harrier IIs.