Monday, December 15, 2014

Iconic Planes: McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II

The AV-8B, also known as the Harrier Jump Jet, is one of the few planes in the world which can hover. Yes, that's right. The plane is actually capable of hovering in place like a helicopter. It can also take off and land vertically, and make tight turns during a dog fight.

The AV-8B Harrier II is actually the second version of the Harrier (well, it is named II for a reason). The first Harrier was developed by Hawker Aircraft when the Bristol Engine Company announced planes for a directed thrust plane, i.e. a plane whose thrust nozzles can be moved in different directions. However, the Hawker Siddeley Harrier could carry only lighter payloads over very short distances.

McDonnell Douglas (now part of Boeing) and British Aerospace (now part of BAE Systems) decided to improve the specifications of the Harrier, and came up with another version which had double everything of the first Harrier; double payload, double range, the works. The main change was the single engine inside the fuselage, which was improved an Pegasus engine designated the Pegasus 15. This engine can direct thrust downward, and can be swivelled backward to move the aircraft forward. These improvements made the Harrier more deadly than ever before. A hovering Harrier is seen in the right-hand-side picture.

The current Harriers have digital cockpits, night vision goggles, digital moving maps, chaff-flare deployers, radar warning systems and jammer pods. Also, advanced technologies like supercritical wings and engineered lateral stability make the plane much easier to fly. The Harrier II was also the first combat plane to make use of composites widely, making it both extremely light and strong. 26% of the body is made of composites, making is lighter than a full-metal structure.

Bottom view of jet aircraft showing its many under-wing pylons for weapons carriage. Two fences run along the length of the underside of the fuselage.
The Harrier has 6 pylons under each wing, and can carry anything from rockets and missiles to bombs and radio jammers. It is also carry the B61 nuclear bomb. The plane has a 5-barreled Gatling Gun under the nose and can carry 4 rocket pods with 19 rockets each. All missiles from Sidewinders to AMRAAMs are supported, as are bombs ranging from unguided bombs to JDAMs. The picture on the left shows some of the Harrier's diverse armament.

Back view of an aircraft taking off from a ramp aboard a ship. The ship is at sea.Usually, the Harrier does not take of vertically to save fuel. Indeed, it cannot do so when fully loaded. It makes sure of a short take of path, also known as a ski-jump ramp, which allows it to conserve fuel and take off at full load. The Harrier is used on smaller aircraft carriers because of this property of its. Smaller British aircraft carriers usually have a few Harrier IIs and a dozen helicopters. These are enough to be as deadly as any full-sized aircraft carrier. The picture on the right shows a Harrier taking off using a ski-jump ramp.

The Harrier's manoeuvrability gives it a distinct advantage over non-directed-thrust planes. In the Falkland Islands War near Argentina, the supreme manoeuvrability of the Harrier, coupled with its advanced Doppler radar system, allowed it to gain 20 victories without a single loss. (Left): The Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) ability of the Harrier make it an excellent carrier aircraft.


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