Art Nalls, the new owner of Sea Harrier FA2 development
aircraft XZ439, originally the second development FRSMk1, writes, on 27
December 2006, about his plans for its future...
I am a retired Marine Corps pilot and
now the proud owner of XZ439. As a former squadron maintenance officer
I was aware of what a rare find this aircraft was when I first laid
eyes on her. She's in great shape! I've honestly flown much worse
aircraft over 200 miles of the Indian Ocean and had to find my way back
to a grey ship in grey sea. There is absolutely no doubt in
my mind that this aircraft will be flying again very soon.
To that end I've assembled a cadre of
experienced Harrier maintainers and am collating a good supply of
spares, support equipment etc. Since the airplane is certificated as
'Experimental' in the US I have great latitude with modifications and
can do almost anything to the airplane to make life simple.
Set To Fly On
I've modified the hydraulic and nitrogen connectors to be compatible
with US standard, removed almost all the military equipment and will
install civilian radios, and even a civilian EFIS (electronic flight
information system) to replace the HUD, which all work on 28 volts DC
rather than the AC that the generators provide.
XZ439 is no longer a 'weapons system'
but an airshow demonstrator. We'll add the gun pods to house a smoke
system feeding the rear nozzles. I can imagine what a dramatic effect a
'flop' will be since the smoke will rotate with the nozzles.
I have no shortage of experienced pilots
willing to offer their services to fly my 'plane for me; as if I needed
help to fly it - but one day I might. I have operational experience in
the AV-8A, was a test pilot for the early AV-8Bs and project test pilot
for the TAV-8B.
I also have over six hours of flight
time in Harriers and Skyhawks without the engine running (during
air-start testing), hundreds of shipboard landings and was a test pilot
for Harrier trials including high angle-of-attack tests, weapons tests,
asymmetric take-off and landing tests, and shipboard ski-jump tests. I
was fortunate to hit the programme when everything needed to be
explored and we only had three pilots to do it all.
XZ439 has successfully passed the FAA
airworthiness inspection and the Certificate will be formally issued on
10 January 2007. It has been assigned US civil registration N94422 and
only needs one more piece of paper before it is legal to fly again.
That is the Letter of Authorisation to begin actual flights, and I
expect that within a month. I have the second of two simulator sessions
on 29 December.
Non-believers become converts as soon as
they see the actual airplane. As you might imagine, the Marines are
also quite excited about this; so much so that the volunteer
maintainers have sentenced me to a chair with my hands duct-taped and
I'm not allowed to touch my own airplane, except in an 'official' pilot
capacity. The airplane is ready, the team is ready and I'm ready!
Our concept is to fly the XZ439 to a
select few airshows in 2007, all within one short flight leg of home
base which is St Mary's Airport, just outside NAS Patuxent River,
Maryland. The following year we'll expand our operations to shows
outside that short radius, to the west coast for example, by shipping
the airplane, dismantled, on two flatbed trailers. This does a couple
of things: it preserves valuable engine time, it is not weather
dependent, and is probably cheaper than flying. The Harrier is not the
most fuel efficient aircraft, especially when I'm limited to an
altitude of 17,500 ft and visual flight rules (VFR) conditions. I doubt
I'll ever need the windscreen wiper again!
Editor's Note. In answer to some
questions raised by the above, Art sent the following.....
I was a military test pilot at Pax
River, having graduated from the USAF Test Pilot (TP) School with Class
85A. At that time the new AV-8B was being introduced and there was no
shortage of work. In fact, I had been offered a TP job Edwards AFB
while a student there but Marine Colonel Harry Blot, my former CO, told
me in no uncertain terms that if I accepted a job testing for the Air
Force I was to stay there and never come back to the Marines; I had
been sent to Edwards to become a qualified TP so had better get back to
work for the Marines!
I was the project officer for the
ski-jump testing aboard ship. The first ship was the Italian Navy
Garibaldi, with a 6 deg ramp, designed specifically for Harriers. The
ship must have been designed by someone who had never actually been
aboard a fighting ship - centre deck elevators, centre hangar bay with
passages round the outside, fuel lines running round the ship
perimeter, no deck-edge scuppers and no lights - but it does look good!
Anyway, we did the tests and provided
the launch bulletin for them. The second ship was the Spanish Navy
Principe de Asturias with a 12 deg ramp. This had a much better
configuration being based on the unbuilt US designed Sea Control Ship
sponsored by Admiral Zumwalt, USN.
The ski-jump so impressed me that I
authored several technical papers and was a huge advocate for the USMC
to push the USN to install it in our amphibious ships (LHDs). We could
then use the single flight deck as essentially two runways; the helos
launching from the stern, the Harriers from the bow. There is nothing
that can be loaded on a Harrier that it can't take off with from 400 ft
with 15 knots wind over deck - absolutely nothing - and the flight deck
is 800 ft long on the LHDs.
Doubled take off performance, increased
inherent safety from the launch trajectory and no moving parts. Seemed
like a no-brainer to me but the USN didn't want to jeopardise their big
deck carriers. I even attempted to orchestrate a cross-deck operation
with the Russian ski jump ship Tiblisi.
Towards the end of my flight testing
career I conceived and got official approval to take a test team to
Russia to explore the YAK-141 supersonic VSTOL fighter and to fly and
report on the YAK-38 Forger. I was the first western TP to do this.
Editors Note. I'm sure I speak for all Hawker Association Members when I
wish Art the very best of luck in this exciting and ambitious project.
Who knows; one day we may see him and XZ439 doing a season of UK and
European airshows. What a thrill that would be!