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On this day in history, August 31, 1966, Harrier Jump Jet makes first flight

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The Harrier Jump Jet, a highly innovative warplane that helped solve several operational problems for military planners, made its first flight on this day in history, August 31, 1966. 

The fighter jet, developed in the United Kingdom, is known for its eye-popping vertical and short take-off and landing (V/STOL) capabilities and for its ability to hover like a helicopter.

“It can operate from motorways, main roads or even from forest clearings, hidden under camouflage nets between missions,” writes the National Museum of Scotland about the warplane’s appeal to military leaders.

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“As a result, the Harriers would be almost impossible to locate and destroy.”

A modern incarnation, the Boeing AV-8B Harrier II, is operated today by the United States Marine Corps.

A United States Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II, aloft in the sky.

A United States Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II, aloft in the sky.
(Getty Images)

“The AV-8B Harrier II is the U.S. military’s only short takeoff, vertical landing jet aircraft in current inventory,” reports Military.com

RAF Sea Harriers shot down 20 Argentinian fighters while suffering zero losses in the Falklands War.

“Like every aircraft in the Marine fleet, this aircraft is used for multiple missions,” the same source reports, “which include attacking and destroying surface and air targets, escorting helicopters, engaging in air-to-air defense, providing reconnaissance and applying offensive and defensive support with its arsenal of missiles, bombs and an onboard 25-millimeter cannon.”

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The aircraft made its maiden voyage for Hawker Siddely Aviation, which became a part of British Aerospace in 1977. 

British Aerospace later produced the planes with McDonnell Douglas, which then merged with Boeing in 1997. 

A U.S. Marine Corps Harrier Jump Jet hangs in front of an audio-visual display inside the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England. 

A U.S. Marine Corps Harrier Jump Jet hangs in front of an audio-visual display inside the Imperial War Museum North in Manchester, England. 
(Phil Noble – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

“Within a year” of the first flight on August 31, 1966, “the RAF ordered 60 aircraft into production,” reports U.K. defense contractor BAE Systems in its history of the aircraft.

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“The first RAF Squadron to be equipped with the Hawker Harrier GR.1 was RAF No.1 Squadron at RAF Wittering, who when they received their aircraft in April 1969, signaled the beginning of over four decades of RAF Service.”

Royal Air Force 800 squadron Sea Harrier aircraft landing on HMS Fearless L10 during the Falklands War 1982. It was unable to land at the damaged Sheathbill air strip; the pilot was Lt-Cdr Neil Thomas. 

Royal Air Force 800 squadron Sea Harrier aircraft landing on HMS Fearless L10 during the Falklands War 1982. It was unable to land at the damaged Sheathbill air strip; the pilot was Lt-Cdr Neil Thomas. 
(Terence Laheney/Getty Images)

A carrier-based version, the Sea Harrier, made global headlines for the Royal Air Force during the Falklands War with Argentina in 1982. 

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The British warplanes shot down 20 Argentinian fighters while suffering zero losses, according to military reports.

Art Nalls, a retired Marine Corps test pilot, bought a 1979 British Sea Harrier in 2006 and had it shipped to the United States, where he became the first known civilian to fly the warplane.

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“I had the great fortune to fly about 75 different type model series of airplanes,” Nalls told NPR in a 2014 interview. 

“Most of them, pretty exciting. The F-18, the F-16. But my absolute favorite has and always will be the Harrier.”



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