Newsletter 9
Summer 2005
Updated on 9Jun2005
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents © Hawker Association

Annual General Meeting
Half a Century in
Hawkers In the 50s
Programme for 2005
Reminiscences of a
Roy Goodheart
Sea Harrier
Thirty Years Ago
Visit to Imperial War
Wartime Hawkers
On May 11 Cdr Tim Gedge AFC, RN (Rtd) gave a fascinating talk centred around his wide experience with Sea Harrier. Tim's Fleet Air Arm career started in 1963 and he retired in 1996. In between he flew Sea Vixens and Phantoms off the big carriers Victorious and Ark Royal, was CO of the first Sea Harrier squadron, 800 NAS, and of 809 NAS during the Falklands campaign, had postings at the Dartmouth Staff College, with the Directorate of Naval Air Warfare and the Directorate of Operational Requirements as well as with the British Naval Staff in Washington DC. He now runs a wooden boat building academy in Dorset ensuring that those skills are kept alive. Clearly a total naval aviation person!

Tim started by briefly covering the background to the Sea Harrier - P.1154 cancellation and navalisation of the Harrier GRMk1 - before moving on to the introduction into service of the Sea Harrier FRSMk1. In 1979 Tim was selected to form the Sea Harrier Intensive Flying Trials Unit which in 1980 grew into the 800 NAS. There followed sea trials in Invincible and Hermes and demonstration flying at the 1980 SBAC show.

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He remained CO until early 1982 when he handed over to Lt Cdr Andy Auld. Tim then became heavily involved in devising a response to the Argentine attacks on South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. The solution was that the Royal Navy should send a task force and Tim now had to solve the problems of getting the carriers, aircraft and other ships to the South Atlantic. Two carriers were to go; Invincible with 8 Sea Harriers and Hermes with 12, which amounted to 2 squadrons with 20 pilots. Tim was then given the job of forming a third front line squadron of 10 aircraft at Yeovilton, 809 NAS, necessary because 'expert opinion' was that the 20 Sea Harriers would all be lost in 2 1/2 days! However, Tim discounted this view and suppressed it as being unhelpful.

The FAA had the highest praise for the Sea Harrier and its simple, well proven systems. There were shortcomings in the radar, the inertial navigation system 'crashed' when operating south of the equator and the radar warning system was a distraction, but these were worked round. The AIM-9L had to be cleared and 6 were successfully fired in Yeovilton trials, the only mod. being minor file and hacksaw work on the launcher. The -9L was the advanced all-aspect Sidewinder and much has been made by analysts of the importance of this feature to the success of the Sea Harriers. However, all AIM-9L kills were from stern shots for which the already cleared -9B would have been satisfactory. The escape tactic adopted by the Argentine Air Force Mirages was to turn away and light the afterburner, a fundamental mistake when opposed by heat seeking missiles.

Tim had arrived at Yeovilton on April 6 and on the 30st he led 6 of his 809 Squadron's Sea Harriers, accompanied by 2 RAF tankers (which were rotated), on the 3700 nm flight to Ascension Island, via Gambia as nobody knew at that time if the Harrier could fly the full 8 hour trip. They arrived on May 1 and on the 5th flew to the Atlantic Conveyer 'instant carrier' and VL'd on the pad at the forward end. The naval architects at Bath had looked at the merchant fleet and found two suitable ships. Conveyer was docked at Liverpool and a conversion team set to work. Tim then did 6 successful VLs and the ship was cleared as operationally capable in 24 hours. Once on board the Harriers were sprayed with WD40 and wrapped up for the voyage south. One aircraft was kept at readiness for self defence purposes. Once south 809's aircraft transferred to Hermes and Invincible. Later the Conveyor would be destroyed by two Exocets with the loss of Chinook helicopters and valuable stores.

HMS Sheffield was also destroyed by an Exocet missile which got through when the ship's radar was temporarily blocked by a satellite radio transmission. HMS Coventry too, was destroyed by mischance. Knowing she was to be attacked by A-4s the command decided to respond with missiles so the Sea Harriers were held off. Unfortunately an escort vessel crossed in front and blanked the missile radar view, with disastrous consequences.

The Falklands look like the western Highlands of Scotland - lots of islands and water with scattered settlements amongst the peat. A search was made for an amphibious landing site and San Carlos, well protected by hills, was selected. The landing would be opposed, not part of current doctrine which assumed air superiority already established. There were 174 Argentine fighters available versus 20 Sea Harriers, as well as 10,000 Argentine troops. However, the landings went well.

The Sea Harriers were operating from 150 - 250 miles out from San Carlos requiring careful fuel planning. Besides the primary combat air patrol work the aircraft carried VT fused 1000 lb bombs which were dropped on Stanley airport from altitudes up to 35,000 ft to remain out of reach of the anti-aircraft guns. The aircraft were outstandingly successful with only 1% of planned sorties missed. The great operational flexibility of the Sea Harrier in appalling weather conditions was invaluable and its ability to VL its greatest asset. In extremis they would have been landed on frigates or destroyers so there were lots of 'decks' available.

After the Falklands Tim visited North America to lecture about the war. He was often asked if it would not have been better to have big carriers with conventional aircraft. His answer was that the war would have been lost (unless it had been politically acceptable to use a strike carrier to 'nuke' the Argentine mainland). The ship pitch limits would have made operations impossible for F-14/F-18 type aircraft because the downhill slopes generated by South Atlantic swells would be similar to the aircraft approach angle. The ski-jump and VL capability allowed the Sea Harriers to operate on comparatively wildly pitching decks. VL is the key capability.

Lessons learnt were applied to the FRSMk2 (now FA2, being withdrawn from service): Blue Vixen radar with look-down capability, AMRAAM missiles usable in cloud, ECM that worked and more fuel in larger drop tanks. However, the FRSMk2 needed too much pilot involvement compared with the FRSMk1. A replacement, to NST6464, was also studied (P.1216 etc) but not funded. Warton even proposed a tail sitting EFA (Typhoon now). Imagine landing back at night on a pitching and rolling deck!

Looking to the future Tim noted that the new RN 60,000 ton (Invincible is 20,000) carrier is planned for 2012. This will be a new environment and RN deck personnel should be training now on US carriers. The aircraft will be Joint Strike Fighters...and these MUST be the VL variant. Meanwhile all Sea Harrier squadrons will have been disbanded in 2006, with 800 reforming with the Harrier GR 9A. This is considerably slower than the FA2 and has no air-air capability so the fleet will, once again, be dependant on shore based fighters (or the USN).

During question time Tim noted that prior to Falklands operations the FAA had not been allowed to contact friends in France to arrange air combat practice with Mirages. However, a Mirage did visit Cottesmore for simulated air combat with a Harrier two-seater, flown by an RAF (ground attack) pilot with an FAA (fighter) pilot aboard but not permitted to fly. Unsurprisingly the Harrier lost. Tim also observed that the Argentine A-4s scored many hits on ships but because they released too low the bombs did not have time to fuse. Asked about the RAF Vulcan attacks Tim replied that although only one bomb hit the runway it did demonstrate to the Argentines that the RAF could easily reach their homeland if necessary.

The vote of thanks was given by Duncan Simpson who quoted Sir Sydney Camm on watching the P1127 at Farnborough "...and what the hell have we given birth to now?" "A pilots' aeroplane, fun and a joy to fly!" according to Cdr Tim Gedge.