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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

RAF Harrier Jump Jet fighter aircraft - the last of flights [Video]

Owing to budget cuts to attempt & reduce its fiscal deficit, the United Kingdom plans to retire all its Vertical Take-off & Landing [VTOL]* Harrier Jump Jet combat aircrafts, much before they complete operation through the designed life of its airframe, by 2011.

From a strictly Engineering stand point, it would be very unfortunate to know that lot fewer of this Engineering marvel would now be left to take to the air. Human ingenuity was best exemplified by the ability of its Engineers to make the aircraft perform both conventional, horizontal flight & vertical movement [take-off & landing] using a only single massive Pegasus jet engine, distributing its exhaust equally through it 4 nozzles & vectoring the enormous thrust generated in the desired direction to achieve its objective.

Cut-Section Digram of a Pegasus [F402] Jet Engine, that powers the Harrier Jump Jet aircrafts

In comparison, Soviet efforts to develop an operational VTOL aircraft produced the Yak-38 that had to make use of 3 Engines - 2 of them simply to perform the vertical take-off & landing operations, that stayed unused for the entire remaining duration of flight.

Representation of the lift operation in the Soviet-built Yak-38 fighter aircraft

With the fate of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter aircraft now hanging in balance & withdrawal of all Harriers from RAF's service#, prospects of being able to continue witnessing the awesome sight of a manned aircraft, in operation, hovering nearly still in mid-air & then slowly descending vertically downwards, settling down gently on the ground, diminishes by quite a bit.

The Indian Navy, that too operates the Harriers, has around 11 of these remaining in service, after attrition, & have recently undergone upgrades now making them capable of firing the BVR Derby missiles, besides other enhancement. Future Aircraft Carriers that are to be inducted in to the fleet, including the indigenously designed Vikrant-class Aircraft Carrier, are being designed to operate the MiG-29K & the Naval Light Combat Aircraft [LCA] Tejas.

As part of the ceremony prior to its withdrawal from service, the Harriers flew over a number of air bases in the UK. A video of its flight from over the RAF Cottesmore airbase is available on YouTube. Enjoy the sound of its engine in all its glory - the sweetest music.

UK Royal Air Force Harrier Jump Jet Fighter aircrafts on its last flight

Pegasus Engine cut-section diagram courtesy: Aircraft Engine Design

Yak-38 lift operation diagram courtesy: Wikipedia

* However, it was mostly operated in the Short Take-Off & Landing [STOVL] configuration, owing to the complexities & stress generated in a vertical take-off, coupled with excessive fuel consumption & lowered take-off weight, causing the aircraft to carry lesser weapon payload.

# It will be replaced by the conventional F-35C Joint Strike Fighter Naval aircraft in around 2020. It reneged on its earlier decision to purchase the STOVL-variant F-35B aircraft to operate out of its Queen Elizabeth-class Aircraft Carriers.