The AV-8B Harrier II Plus is a short takeoff vertical landing (STOL) fighter aircraft. The Harrier can hover like a helicopter, but also fly at high speeds as a fixed-wing airplane, combining the best characteristics of both types of aircraft. The Harrier’s vertical lift is provided by four rotating nozzles. The nozzles are repositioned to provide traditional horizontal thrust when the Harrier needs to be flown as an airplane.
The design of the AV-8B Harrier II Plus is based on the AV-8A Harrier I aircraft. It completed its first flight in 1978 and entered service in 1985. Production of the plane has been a coordinated effort between the United States, Italy, and Spain. The AV-8B Harrier II Plus is currently flown by the Italian Navy, Spanish Navy, and the U.S. Marine Corps. The Royal Navy flies their own versions of the Harrier, with the most recent one being the Harrier GR9. Some of the upgraded equipment on the Harrier GR9 includes an improved avionics suite and a Precision Guided Bomb and Brimstone Anti Armor weapon system.
Alan C. Miller and Kevin Sack wrote an in-depth article about the Harrier in the Los Angeles Times which won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. It’s their contention that the Harrier, which they dub “The Widow Maker,” is the single most dangerous airplane in the U.S. military. More than one-third of the U.S. Marine’s Harrier fleet has been lost in non-combat accidents.
Maximum speed: 585 kts (1.0 Mach)
Cruise speed: 456 kts
Range: 1,600 miles
Ceiling: 41,700 feet
Length: 47.75 feet
Wingspan: 30.33 feet
Height: 11.65 feet
Maximum weight: 32,000 pounds
Empty weight: 14,867 pounds
Engine: One 23,500-pound thrust Rolls-Royce Pegasus 11-61 (F402-RR-408) engine
Rate of climb: 16,000 feet per minute
Armament: Air to air heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles, AIM-120 advanced medium range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), and air-to-surface weapon systems.
Contractor: McDonnell Douglas/Boeing (primary contractor), BAE Systems and Rolls Royce (subcontractors)