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    HomeMilitaryHarrier Legacy Soars as Iconic Jump Jet Nears Final Retirement

    Harrier Legacy Soars as Iconic Jump Jet Nears Final Retirement

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    AV-8B Harrier Plus
    AV-8B Harrier Plus

    The AV-8B Harrier jet, a mainstay in U.S. Marine Corps aviation for nearly 40 years, is set to take its final bow. Renowned for its vertical takeoff and landing capability, the Harrier has etched its name into military history through decades of service in various conflicts.

    BILBAO, SPAIN - MARCH / 23/2019. The aircraft carrier of the Spa
    BILBAO, SPAIN – MARCH / 23/2019. The aircraft carrier of the Spa

    Now, as the Corps transitions the last of its Harrier pilots to the more modern F-35B, the Harrier’s legacy looms large, marking the end of an era.

    US Navy AV-8B Harrier
    US Navy AV-8B Harrier

    The significance of the Harrier’s approaching retirement was underscored in April when the Marine Corps’ last two Harrier pilots earned their wings. The Harrier community is feeling a blend of nostalgia and pride as their aircraft’s tenure nears its conclusion.

    AV-8B Harrier Plus
    AV-8B Harrier Plus

    “It is the beginning of the end for us as a community,” shared Capt. Joshua Corbett, one of the last Harrier pilots. Emphasizing the sentimental value the jet holds, he added, “All good things have to come to an end, and it’s our turn soon, but not yet.”

    Spanish Navy EAV-8B Harrier II Plus captured at the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford.
    Spanish Navy EAV-8B Harrier II Plus captured at the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford.

    The Harrier has demonstrated unmatched versatility and adaptability since it first took to the skies in support of Marine operations. The aircraft saw action in the Gulf War where its role was crucial despite mixed reviews on its performance.

    MOTRIL, GRANADA, SPAIN-JUN 09: Aircraft AV-8B Harrier Plus and  helicopter SH-60 Seahawk taking part in an exhibition on the 12th international airshow of Motril on Jun 09, 2017, in Motril, Granada, Spain
    MOTRIL, GRANADA, SPAIN-JUN 09: Aircraft AV-8B Harrier Plus and helicopter SH-60 Seahawk taking part in an exhibition on the 12th international airshow of Motril on Jun 09, 2017, in Motril, Granada, Spain

    Retired Lt. Col. Theodore Herman defended the Harrier’s record, highlighting that the jet executed missions without requiring aerial refueling, which was central to its design for battlefield proximity.

    AV-8B Harrier Plus
    AV-8B Harrier Plus

    The jump jet also had a significant impact in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, transforming amphibious ships into “Harrier Carriers” and magnifying the power of Marine Expeditionary Units.

    McDonnell Douglas AV-8 B Harrier II at the USS Iwo Jima LHD-7 amphibious assault ship of the United States Navy at the New York Fleet Week. Manhattan, New York USA May 31, 2010.
    McDonnell Douglas AV-8 B Harrier II at the USS Iwo Jima LHD-7 amphibious assault ship of the United States Navy at the New York Fleet Week. Manhattan, New York USA May 31, 2010.

    It was noted that Harrier squadrons launched from such ships spent more than 250 tons of ordnances and impacted roughly 1,200 targets, underscoring the Harrier’s pivotal role in the campaign.

    AV-8B Harrier Plus
    AV-8B Harrier Plus

    The Harrier’s influence extended beyond military operations, capturing the public’s imagination with a cameo in a Pepsi commercial that led to an amusing legal challenge over the advertised “7,000,000 Pepsi Points” supposedly redeemable for a Harrier. The lawsuit that ensued became a footnote in the jet’s storied career.

    BILBAO, SPAIN - MARCH / 23/2019. The aircraft carrier of the Spa
    BILBAO, SPAIN – MARCH / 23/2019. The aircraft carrier of the Spa

    Even as it approaches retirement, the Harrier is not done adapting. Recently, Harriers have been modified to counter the drone threats in the Red Sea posed by Houthi rebels, with at least one Harrier equipped with air defense missiles. Despite its iconic loud engine and lack of stealth, the Harrier has shown that it can take on new challenges.

    TORRE DEL MAR, MALAGA, SPAIN-JUL 12: Aircraft AV-8B Harrier Plus taking part in an exhibition on the 4th international airshow of Torre del Mar on July 12, 2019, in Torre del Mar, Malaga, Spain
    TORRE DEL MAR, MALAGA, SPAIN-JUL 12: Aircraft AV-8B Harrier Plus taking part in an exhibition on the 4th international airshow of Torre del Mar on July 12, 2019, in Torre del Mar, Malaga, Spain

    The AV-8B’s British counterpart, the Sea Harrier, boasts an impressive record as well, particularly in the Falklands War with a 23:0 air-to-air kill ratio. The Sea Harrier has similarly earned its place in military aviation history, along with the respect and admiration of those who flew it.

    Spanish Navy EAV-8B Harrier II Plus captured at the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford.
    Spanish Navy EAV-8B Harrier II Plus captured at the 2019 Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford.

    The tenacity and resilience of the Harrier were also highlighted in an incident involving a pilot’s skillful vertical landing on a stool aboard a Navy ship after his jet’s front landing gear failed.

    AV-8B Harrier Plus
    AV-8B Harrier Plus

    Such daring feats of aviation are part of the lore that surrounds the Harrier, further cementing its role as a marvel of military engineering.

    BILBAO, SPAIN - MARCH / 23/2019. The aircraft carrier of the Spa
    BILBAO, SPAIN – MARCH / 23/2019. The aircraft carrier of the Spa

    As the Marine Corps looks ahead to September 2026, when the final two Harrier squadrons will complete their transition to the F-35B, it’s clear that the Harrier has more than earned its place in the annals of military history.

    MOTRIL, GRANADA, SPAIN-JUN 11: Aircraft AV-8B Harrier Plus taking part in an exhibition on the 12th international airshow of Motril on Jun 11, 2017, in Motril, Granada, Spain
    MOTRIL, GRANADA, SPAIN-JUN 11: Aircraft AV-8B Harrier Plus taking part in an exhibition on the 12th international airshow of Motril on Jun 11, 2017, in Motril, Granada, Spain

    While its loud engines may soon fall silent, the legacy of the Harrier will continue to inspire with tales of ingenuity, bravery, and the relentless pursuit of aerial excellence.

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