On 10th March Air Vice
Marshal Peter Dodworth CB, OBE, AFC, gave a
very nostalgic talk to the Association on the early days of the Harrier
in the Royal Air Force.
After achieving a physics degree at Leeds University
the RAF flying Hunters with 54 Squadron and Gnats at RAF Valley and
with the Central Flying School (CFS). In 1969 he was appointed Flight
Commander of the Harrier Conversion Team (HCT) and became
the Harrier Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) Advanced Squadron at RAF
Wittering. Further Harrier involvement was as the Harrier Staff Officer
in RAF Germany, the Officer Commanding Operations at Wittering, Air
Commander in Belize and CO RAF Wittering. His career continued upwards
through many senior positions until he retired from the Service as AV-M
The Harrier Conversion Team
Peter outlined early V/STOL developments up to the Hawker Kestrel and
its Evaluation Squadron. The Harrier GRMk1 was a Kestrel development to
Air Staff Requirement ASR 384. It was powered by the Pegasus 6/101 of
19,000 lb thrust, a considerable increase over the 15,500 lb Pegasus in
the Kestrel. It was equipped with the very latest avionics including an
Inertial Navigation System, a Weapon aiming Computer and a Head Up
Display, a very good item made by Specto, and was armed with two 30 mm
Aden guns and a variety of external stores.
The Harrier GRMk1 was released for service in April
1969 and shortly afterwards participated in the Daily Mail
Trans-Atlantic Air Race organised to commemorate the 50th anniversary
of Flt Lts Alcock and Brown’s first non-stop flight. On 5th May Sqn Ldr
Tom Lecky-Thompson took off vertically in XV741 from St Pancras
railway station and with in-flight refuelling landed vertically in New
York’s Bristol Basin.
The race was from the top of the London Post Office Tower
to the top of the Empire State Building; Tom’s winning flight
time was 6 hrs 11 mins. From west to east Sqn Ldr Graham Williams using
XV744 made it in a flight time 5 hrs 49 mins, but was beaten by an RAF
Phantom. Ferry wing tips (18 ins development versions) were used to
improve cruise performance, the only time they were used in
The Harrier Conversion Team started training at
Dunsfold in January 1969 under the tutelage of the then Deputy Chief
Test Pilot, Duncan Simpson, the four pilots were: Sqn Ldr Dick Lebrocq,
the speaker then Flt Lt Peter Dodworth, Flt Lt Bruce Latton and Flt Lt
Richie Profit. There were ten weeks of ground school at Dunsfold (in
the Product Support Training School where John Fozard lectured on the
aerodynamics of jet V/STOL), Bristol, Ferranti and other suppliers of
equipment. From these the students devised future ground school
The flying started with a Hunter refresher at RAF
Chivenor, followed by a six hour hover and transition course on
Whirlwind helicopters at RAF Tern Hill. Back at Dunsfold there was Dove
flying for local area familiarisation then eight hours in the Harrier.
Firstly a conventional flight, with Duncan flying chase in a Hunter,
and a 160 kn conventional landing, VTOL press-ups and hovers,
translations and transitions, rolling VTOLs, STOL flights from the
runway and grass, and VTOLs from a metal pad amongst Dunsfold’s trees.
All airfield flying was filmed and Duncan was in radio
contact from the tower. The aircraft were not equipped with functioning
weapon systems so there was not much to do away from Dunsfold. When
pressed on this Duncan said, “Do anything you like as long as it’s
above ground level.” The finale was a vertical landing on a pad in a
wood near Boscombe Down. In parallel with the flying RAF ground crew
completed an intensive course at the HSA Dunsfold training school.
On 16th May 1969 four Harriers departed to RAF
Wittering where Hunter Squadrons were converted one Flight at a time.
VTOL and transition training was done at West Raynham using the old
Kestrel pads as the Wittering concrete was not up to standard. As yet
there were still no two seaters so extra sorties were necessary. The
Harrier was not intrinsically difficult to fly but it offered fierce
acceleration. The use of nozzles was instinctive but the need to add
power during VLs, rather than pulling the nose up, was not. Also the
need to eliminate yaw in semi-jet borne flight to avoid running out of
roll control power was new.
Hunters, or Harriers for slow landings, were used for
chase and a communications caravan with an instructor was placed by the
VTO pads or STO strips. All early take-offs and landings were filmed
for instructional purposes. As aircraft were equipped so INAS, weapons,
recce and air combat were added to the syllabus. The instructors were
involved in Harrier deliveries from Dunsfold to Wittering, flight
testing and air displays and also gave ground school lectures. Students
found the Harrier exhilarating to fly, with new things to do, like VIFF
(vectoring in forward flight).
The converted pilots became the staff of 233 OCU
which really got into its stride when the first two seat TMk2As arrived
in October 1970. These had the uprated Pegasus 10/102 with an extra
1,500 lb thrust, enough to balance the extra weight. At the end of 1972
the Harrier GRMk3 and TMk4 were created by installation of the Pegasus
11/103 with 21,500 lb thrust. The LRMTS (laser rangefinder & marked
target seeker) modification was fitted at the same time.
The OCU course lasted six months with one week of
helicopter flying, ground school, flight simulator and 75 hours of
Harrier flying. The Basic Squadron covered V/STOL, instrument,
formation, night and air combat flying, while the Advanced Squadron
added low level navigation, attack profiles, reconnaissance (port
oblique and pod), weapons (cannon, SNEB rockets, cluster bombs), STOs
from taxiways, roads and strips, VLs on MEXE pads and RVLs on strips.
With this training pilots went to the squadrons fully capable. There
were also Instructors courses.
The OCU courses were very effective, the success
rate was similar to or better than other aircraft, V/STOL was not the
problem forecast, and the course really reflected squadron use.
Peter then moved on to early GRMk3 service. RAF
Germany became highly skilled at field operations, deploying forward
from the main base. The Field Wing Operations Centre controlled three
squadrons each with two sites (6 sites total) housing six aircraft (36
aircraft total). Each site was stocked with consumables; fuel weapons
etc. The Harriers flew STO/VL from metal strips and pads in army
training areas for training but in wartime would have flown from hard
surfaces; roads, car parks etc. Pilots remained in the cockpit for six
40 minute sorties with 30 minute turnrounds including debriefing,
briefing and provision of new maps, with the INAS kept running on
ground power. In this way ten sorties per aircraft per day were
achieved vs. four sorties when operating from the main base.
In the mid 1970s Belize, previously British
Honduras, was under threat from neighbouring Guatemala. Harriers went
out in support, returned to the UK then went back to Belize and stayed.
There were 300 RAF personnel, four Harriers, four Rapier missile units
and four helicopters. Harriers were needed because there were no
diversion airfields and Harriers could land almost anywhere. They
operated from hides on sites.
Peter closed by briefly touching on the Falklands
campaign where RAF Harriers flew tanked 3,500 mile positioning legs.
Weapons used included the new laser guided bombs with targets marked
either by the aircraft’s LRMTS or Special Forces ground designators. At
the end of the war Sidewiders were carried in the air defence role from
The vote of thanks for this well illustrated and
enthralling talk was given by Duncan Simpson who had been so intimately
involved in Harrier development and introduction into service.