McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) AV-8B "Harrier II" gets ready for "Exercise Winter Fury 18"
Marine Corp Air Station Miramar, Calif. - Lance Cpl. David Gaytan, an aircraft ordinance technician with Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 214, checks a McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) AV-8B "Harrier" before the removal of ordnance during "Exercise Winter Fury 18" at Marine Corp Air Station Miramar, Calif., Nov. 29. Marines prepared several Harriers to support "Exercise Winter Fury 18", which spans several locations including Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, MCAS Miramar and MCAS Yuma, Ariz.
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The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) AV-8B "Harrier II" is a single-engine ground-attack aircraft that constitutes the second generation of the Harrier Jump Jet family. Capable of vertical or short takeoff and landing (V/STOL), the aircraft was designed in the late 1970s as an Anglo-American development of the British Hawker Siddeley "Harrier", the first operational V/STOL aircraft. The aircraft is primarily employed on light attack or multi-role missions, ranging from close air support of ground troops to armed reconnaissance. The AV-8B is used by the United States Marine Corps (USMC), the Spanish Navy, and the Italian Navy. A variant of the AV-8B, the British Aerospace "Harrier II", was developed for the British military, while another, the TAV-8B, is a dedicated two-seat trainer.
The project that eventually led to the AV-8B's creation started in the early 1970s as a cooperative effort between the United States and United Kingdom (UK), aimed at addressing the operational inadequacies of the first-generation Harrier. Early efforts centered on a larger, more powerful Pegasus engine to dramatically improve the capabilities of the "Harrier". Due to budgetary constraints, the UK abandoned the project in 1975.
Following the withdrawal of the UK, McDonnell Douglas extensively redesigned the earlier AV-8A "Harrier" to create the AV-8B. While retaining the general layout of its predecessor, the aircraft incorporates a new wing, an elevated cockpit, a redesigned fuselage, one extra hardpoint per wing, and other structural and aerodynamic refinements. The aircraft is powered by an upgraded version of the Pegasus, which gives the aircraft its V/STOL ability. The AV-8B made its maiden flight in November 1981 and entered service with the USMC in January 1985. Later upgrades added a night-attack capability and radar, resulting in the AV-8B(NA) and AV-8B "Harrier II Plus", respectively. An enlarged version named "Harrier III" was also studied, but not pursued. The UK, through British Aerospace, re-joined the improved Harrier project as a partner in 1981, giving it a significant work-share in the project. After corporate mergers in the 1990s, Boeing and BAE Systems have jointly supported the program. Approximately 340 aircraft were produced in a 22-year production program that ended in 2003.
Typically operated from small aircraft carriers, large amphibious assault ships and simple forward operating bases, AV-8Bs have participated in numerous military and humanitarian operations, proving themselves versatile assets. U.S. Army General Norman Schwarzkopf named the USMC "Harrier II" as one of several important weapons in the Gulf War. The aircraft took part in combat during the Iraq War beginning in 2003. The "Harrier II" has served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan since 2001, and was used in Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya in 2011. Italian and Spanish "Harrier II's" have taken part in overseas conflicts in conjunction with NATO coalitions. During its service history, the AV-8B has had a high accident rate, related to the percentage of time spent in critical take-off and landing phases. USMC and Italian Navy AV-8B's are to be replaced by the Lockheed Martin F-35B "Lightning II", with the former expected to operate its "Harrier's" until 2025.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the first-generation Harriers entered service with the Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Marine Corps (USMC), but were handicapped in range and payload. In short takeoff and landing configuration, the AV-8A (American designation for the "Harrier") carried less than half the 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) payload of the smaller A-4 "Skyhawk", over a more limited radius. To address this issue, Hawker Siddeley and McDonnell Douglas began joint development of a more capable version of the "Harrier" in 1973. Early efforts concentrated on an improved Pegasus engine, designated the Pegasus 15, which was being tested by Bristol Siddeley. Although more powerful, the engine's diameter was too large by 2.75 in (70 mm) to fit into the "Harrier" easily.
In December 1973, a joint American and British team completed a project document defining an "Advanced Harrier" powered by the Pegasus 15 engine. The "Advanced Harrier" was intended to replace the original RAF and USMC "Harrier's", as well as the USMC's A-4. The aim of the "Advanced Harrier" was to double the AV-8's payload and range, and was therefore unofficially named AV-16. The British government pulled out of the project in March 1975 owing to decreased defense funding, rising costs, and the RAF's insufficient 60-aircraft requirement. With development costs estimated to be around £180–200 million (1974 British pounds), the United States was unwilling to fund development by itself, and ended the project later that year.
Despite the project's termination, the two companies continued to take different paths toward an enhanced "Harrier". Hawker Siddeley focused on a new larger wing that could be retrofitted to existing operational aircraft, while McDonnell Douglas independently pursued a less ambitious, though still expensive, project catering to the needs of the US military. Using knowledge gleaned from the AV-16 effort, though dropping some items—such as the larger Pegasus engine—McDonnell Douglas kept the basic structure and engine for an aircraft tailored for the USMC.
Designing and testing
As the USMC wanted a substantially improved "Harrier" without the development of a new engine, the plan for "Harrier II" development was authorized by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) in 1976. The United States Navy (USN), which had traditionally procured military aircraft for the USMC, insisted that the new design be verified with flight testing. McDonnell Douglas modified two AV-8As with new wings, revised intakes, redesigned exhaust nozzles, and other aerodynamic changes; the modified forward fuselage and cockpit found on all subsequent aircraft were not incorporated on these prototypes. Designated YAV-8B, the first converted aircraft flew on 9 November 1978, at the hands of Charles Plummer. The aircraft performed three vertical take-offs and hovered for seven minutes at Lambert–St. Louis International Airport. The second aircraft followed on 19 February 1979, but crashed that November due to engine flameout; the pilot ejected safely. Flight testing of these modified AV-8s continued into 1979. The results showed greater than expected drag, hampering the aircraft's maximum speed. Further refinements to the aerodynamic profile yielded little improvement. Positive test results in other areas, including payload, range, and V/STOL performance, led to the award of a development contract in 1979. The contract stipulated a procurement of 12 aircraft initially, followed by a further 324.
Between 1978 and 1980, the DoD and USN repeatedly attempted to terminate the AV-8B program. There had previously been conflict between the USMC and USN over budgetary issues. At the time, the USN wanted to procure A-18s for its ground attack force and, to cut costs, pressured the USMC to adopt the similarly-designed F-18 fighter instead of the AV-8B to fulfill the role of close air support (both designs were eventually amalgamated to create the multirole F/A-18 "Hornet"). Despite these bureaucratic obstacles, in 1981, the DoD included the "Harrier II" in its annual budget and five-year defense plan. The USN declined to participate in the procurement, citing the limited range and payload compared with conventional aircraft.
In August 1981 the program received a boost when British Aerospace (BAe) and McDonnell Douglas signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU), marking the UK's re-entry into the program. The British government was enticed by the lower cost of acquiring "Harrier's" promised by a large production run, and the fact that the US was shouldering the expense of development. Under the agreement BAe was relegated to the position of a subcontractor, instead of the full partner status that would have been the case had the UK not left the program. Consequently, the company received, in man-hours, 40 percent of the airframe work-share. Aircraft production took place at McDonnell Douglas' facilities in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, and manufacturing by BAe at its Kingston and Dunsfold facilities in Surrey, England. Meanwhile, 75 percent work-share for the engine went to Rolls-Royce, which had previously absorbed Bristol Siddeley, with the remaining 25 percent assigned to Pratt & Whitney. The two companies planned to manufacture 400 "Harrier II's", with the USMC expected to procure 336 aircraft and the RAF, 60.
Four full-scale development (FSD) aircraft were constructed. The first of these (BuNo 161396), used mainly for testing performance and handling qualities, made its maiden flight on 5 November 1981, piloted by Plummer. The second and third FSD aircraft, which introduced wing leading-edge root extensions and revised engine intakes, first flew in April the following year; the fourth followed in January 1984. The first production AV-8B was delivered to the Marine Attack Training Squadron 203 (VMAT-203) at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point (MCAS Cherry Point) on 12 December 1983, and officially handed over one month later. The last of the initial batch of 12 was delivered in January 1985 to the front-line Marine Attack Squadron 331 (VMA-331). The engine used for these aircraft was the F402-RR-404A, with 21,450 lb (95.4 kN) of thrust; aircraft from 1990 onwards received upgraded engines.