Two RAF Harrier GR.9s visited Dunsfold Park aerodrome in the UK on November 18 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first untethered hover by the Harrier’s prototype, the P1127.
The 50th anniversary visit was attended by more than 100 special guests including two of the original test pilots, Duncan Simpson and John Farley.
The P1127 commenced hover trials while tethered to a grid on the runway on October 21 1960 with Bill Bedford at the controls, and hovered free for the first time on November 19 of that year. After extensive development and trials, the first operational Harrier was delivered to the RAF’s 1SQN at RAF Wittering in 1969.
The recent UK defence review decided to retire the Harrier in early 2011, some six years before it is due to be replaced by the F-35. “I feel very sad we will no longer have the Harrier,” Simpson told local media. “It is still such a flexible aeroplane and I don’t think that’s fully understood even now. I feel this is a big mistake. It’s unique and is still used all over the world. The Harrier now has more equipment than we ever dreamed of but it is still the basic plane that flew from Dunsfold 50 years ago.”
Dunsfold Park is better known today as the test track for the Top Gear television series, a number of warbirds, and the heavily modified former Virgin Atlantic 747 which featured in the James Bond 007 film, Casino Royale.