Musings on the worlds of aviation, military and international affairs.
With reviews of books that cover these topics
The latest in the Boys series covers the first part of the career of one of Britain’s most unique and iconic military aircraft, the Harrier. Its unique technology meant a fraught development, and the book chronicles how, also with its forebear the P1127, the RAF was unusually intimately involved in the development process.
One of the earliest stories to tickle the sides is by Heinz Frick, a Hawker test pilot, clearing a GR3 for delivery just before Christmas in 1981. An engine failure saw him glide from 40,000’ into a closed Boscombe Down. The resultant chat with the finest of MoD’s plods is classic. Inevitably much of the book is concerned with the aircraft’s illustrious service career in the Falklands conflict. Like many of its sister titles there is a degree of overlap, and we read the same combats told through the eyes of more than one participant. The enormous effort by both air and ground crews to bring forward missile and nav fits for that battle is well described. Of interest is the great help received from the French Air Force, who, inter alia, relocated some Mirages to the UK so that the Harrier crews could practice air combat with dissimilar types (and ones used by the Argies).
A strong undercurrent of this title is the seemingly high proportion of Harrier pilots who made very senior rank. One such, Sir Peter Squire, is very critical of the skills of the commander of HMS Hermes during the Falklands conflict. Indeed there are several episodes of RAF/RN friction.
Another example of repeated stories is that of the crash of Tim Ellison, of 1 Sqn, who suffered an engine failure at 50’ on recovery to Wittering . Both narrators in this book miss an important point that Tim once made to me. When Wittering’s fire crews reached the very bent Harrier, they initially thought he had ejected – the seat was nowhere to be found – until they peered into the bowels of the cockpit where they saw Ellison still strapped into the seat, which was by now well below ground level. He recovered to become a leading advocate of flying for the disabled.
The Harrier’s reliance on a single engine, with large intakes, when power was critical at several stages of the flight envelope, meant that casualties were high. The main author relates that during the 17 years of his Harrier career, he lost 21 colleagues. It cannot have helped that, in its wisdom, the MoD bought single seaters, two seaters, and then sims, rather than (as the Spanish did) the reverse, which would have been the sensible way of doing things.
The Harrier crews, particularly in RAF Germany, were of the archetypal work hard/play hard variety. . One contributor relates:
“At a typical weekend street BBQ in Gutersloh, I overheard a n adult chatting to a seven or eight year old boy as follows:
‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’
‘I don’t really know.’
‘Don’t you want to be a pilot like your Dad?’
‘I’d like to, but not really.’
‘Oh, why not?’
‘I don’t like beer.’” !!!!
At the book’s end, Mike Harwood, at one time OC of the OCU, gives a very literate and moving account of why the Harrier part of one’s career was so character building.
Not quite so many falling-in-the-aisles yarns as the Hunter and Lightning titles, but very enjoyable nonetheless, and I await Vol 2 with anticipation. One small niggle - the glossary is vital – Harrier pilots seem to have an inordinate fondness for TLAs! – but it is far from complete.