Kit No. MA 112
Cost: $25.00 (varies)
Decals: Four versions – Three Royal Air Force (GR. Mk. 1), one United States Marine Corps (AV-8)
Comments: Raised panel lines and rivet detail; engraved panel lines for control surfaces; basic cockpit; optional position landing gear; complete Rolls Royce Pegasus engine with removable dorsal hatch for viewing; choice of ordnance includes drop tanks, gun pods, bombs, rocket pods, and a reconnaissance pod; detailed pilot figure
The Hawker Siddeley Harrier was developed in the 1960’s and was the first operational close-support and reconnaissance fighter aircraft with vertical/short takeoff and landing (V/STOL) capabilities and the only truly successful V/STOL design of the many that arose in that era. Its origins date back to 1956 when Bristol Aero Engines, Limited (later Rolls Royce Bristol Engine Division) began research into vectored thrust powerplants which led to the development of Pegasus engine. This research, led by Bristol’s technical director, Dr. Stanley Hooker, was influenced by French engineer Michel Wilbaut, who in 1954 had experimented with vectored thrust using a Bristol Orion turboprop engine fitted with four rotating exhaust nozzles.
The Harrier was produced directly from the Hawker Siddeley Kestrel prototype (P.1127) following the cancellation of a more advanced supersonic aircraft, the Hawker Siddeley P.1154. The Harrier made its first flight on December 28, 1967. Entering service with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) as the Harrier GR.1 on April 18, 1969, it was exported to the United States as the AV-8A, for use by the U.S. Marine Corps as a V/STOL close support aircraft beginning in 1971.
The RAF positioned the bulk of their Harriers in West Germany to defend against a potential invasion of Western Europe by the Soviet Union. The Harrier’s unique abilities allowed the RAF to disperse these fighters away from vulnerable airbases, making a potential comprehensive first strike by the Soviet bloc designed to eliminate Western airpower in the opening phases of an invasion more difficult. The USMC used their Harriers primarily for close air support, operating from amphibious assault ships, and, if needed, forward operating bases. Harrier squadrons saw several deployments overseas. The Harrier’s ability to operate with minimal ground facilities and very short runways allowed it to be used at locations unavailable to other fixed-wing aircraft.
The Harrier has received criticism for having a high accident rate, and in fairness, has been described by pilots as “unforgiving.” It is not for the novice, being a complex aircraft to fly, and capable of both forward flight (where it behaves in the manner of a typical fixed-wing aircraft above its stall speed), as well as VTOL and STOL manoeuvres (where the traditional lift and control surfaces are useless) requiring skills and technical knowledge usually associated with helicopters. Most services on both sides of the Atlantic demand great aptitude and extensive training for Harrier pilots, as well as experience in piloting both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft. Trainee pilots are often drawn from highly experienced and skilled helicopter pilots.
Despite the criticism, the AV-8A’s abilities in air-to-air combat were tested by the Marine Corps by conducting mock dogfights with McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom IIs; these exercises trained pilots to use the vectoring-in-forward-flight (VIFF) capability to outmanoeuvre their opponents and showed that the Harriers could act as effective air-to-air fighters at close range. The success of Harrier operations countered scepticism of V/STOL aircraft, which had been judged to be expensive failures in the past. Marine Corps officers became convinced of the military advantages of the Harrier and pursued extensive development of the aircraft.
In the late 1970’s the British Aerospace Sea Harrier was developed from the Harrier for use by the Royal Navy board Invincible-class aircraft carriers. The Sea Harrier and the Harrier fought in the 1982 Falklands War, in which they proved to be both crucial and versatile. The ski-jump technique for launching Harriers from Royal Navy aircraft carriers was extensively trialled at RNAS Yeovilton beginning in 1977. Following these tests, ski-jumps were added to the flight decks of all RN carriers from 1979 onwards, in preparation for this new variant for the Royal Navy (a modification which led to the nickname coined for the Sea Harrier by the media during the Falklands action, “jump jets”).
The Sea Harriers provided fixed-wing air defence while the RAF Harriers focused on ground-attack missions in support of the advancing British land force. The Harrier was also extensively redesigned as the AV-8B Harrier II and British Aerospace Harrier II by the team of McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace. The innovative Harrier family and its Rolls-Royce Pegasus engines with thrust vectoring nozzles have generated long-term interest in V/STOL aircraft. Similar V/STOL operational aircraft include the contemporary Soviet Yakovlev Yak-38. A V/STOL variant of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is currently under development.
Tamiya’s Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR. Mk 1 is injection molded in grey plastic and consists of 104 parts, including two clear parts for the windscreen and canopy. While this is an older kit (first released in 1972) featuring raised panel lines, Tamiya’s kit of the Hawker Harrier is accurate, and was the first one on the scene in 1/48 scale. It includes parts for an internal assembly of the revolutionary Pegasus engine. For those who are enamored of Tamiya aircraft, particularly the exquisite offerings of recent years, be aware that this kit is from an older mold. Not many engraved panel lines here, and certainly no photo-etched parts.
The best features of this kit, other than the general high quality of Tamiya engineering which was true even 40 years ago, are the adjustable vectored thrust exhaust nozzles, faithfully recreated from the original, combined with the abundance of underwing and fuselage-bound stores, from drop tanks to bombs to rocket pods to gun pods — the modeler will have his choice. The instructions devote nearly an entire page to featuring a schematic of all parts trees, along with a numbered list of each part, something this modeler wished was standard on all kit instructions everywhere!
Assembly begins with the large Pegasus engine which dominates the fuselage interior and consists of 7 parts. It will be important to paint the fuselage interior as indicated in the instructions (light grey), since the dorsal hatch will reveal the engine and interior, unless it is cemented into place. The face of the turbofan with its compressor blades is big enough that even without the dorsal hatch, it may be visible through the Harrier’s large intakes on either side of the fuselage aft of the cockpit.
The cockpit is very basic, consisting of a tub, not very detailed seat, control stick, and pilot figure. While there is a separate part for the instrument panel hood, there is no actual instrument panel, and no instrument decal for those inclined to scratch-build one. Surprisingly, the instructions, which are otherwise clear, and well thought out, call for the cementing on of the canopy at Step 4, relatively early in the build.
A note on the kit’s two 30mm gun pods, which are cemented to the belly just off the center line of the fuselage between the fore and aft landing gear doors: should you use them (Harriers were deployed with and without them), be aware that there are no visible gun barrels or machined gun barrel openings on these parts. They should be positioned with their blunt ends facing the nose of the aircraft, and holes will have to be drilled to depict barrel openings if you want a realistic look.
The remainder of the kit’s ordnance includes two 100 gallon drop tanks, five 1,000 lb. bombs, four rocket pods, evan a reconnaissance pod. Page 6 of the instructions includes a helpful illustration in the form of a detailed schematic showing the variations of ordnance carried by the Harrier. There are also three-view illustrations for the four versions of the Harrier for which markings are provided. While they call out specific squadrons of the RAF which flew the Harrier (Nos. 1, 4, and 20), the American version is merely one for the U.S. Marines, with no unit identified. Despite its age, the kit markings have held up remarkably well, with no evidence of yellowing or oxidation — they may well be usable, as their color is good and they appear to be appropriately thin with a nice semi-gloss sheen.
A kit of a ground-breaking aircraft that holds up quite well despite its age. Highly recommended.