The editor marks this historic occasion
A long-time resident in the Brooklands Museum is a grey and white Harrier two-seater, Hawker Siddeley Aviation’s (HSA) Harrier Mk52 demonstrator, usually referred to by its civil registration, G-VTOL (pronounced 'gee veetol'), one of the first in the UK register to be 'personalised'. The aircraft was funded jointly by HSA and their Harrier suppliers who provided equipment on-loan or free of charge, including Rolls-Royce Bristol who provided engines. Assembled at HSA Kingston. G-VTOL was the twelfth two-seater and made its first flight, from Dunsfold, with Duncan Simpson in Sept 1971 and soon became the world's first jet V/STOL aircraft with a civil Certificate of Airworthiness. Equipped with airliner-standard communications and navigation equipment 'VTOL’was ready to fly the airways of the world.
It was a striking sight in its patriotic red, white and blue livery designed by Harrier Chief Designer John Fozard, personally. Soon it would appear in desert camouflage and later in naval grey and white, as the marketing emphasis changed. It also would wear the military serial ZA250 to allow the carriage of trials weapons, not permitted on civil aircraft. The primary purpose of the aircraft was to enable potential customers' pilots and influential officials to experience Harrier flight first hand under the guidance of a Company pilot and so demonstrate the many outstanding and unique qualities of the type and show that an ordinary, suitably experienced pilot, could fly it.
G-VTOL nearly came to a premature end when it over-ran the
Dunsfold runway on flight 12, just three weeks after first flight.
However, it was ready again in May 1972, repainted in desert
camouflage, and set off in June, with Tony Hawkes and John Farley, on a
delayed Middle East and India sales tour managed by Kingston marketing
executive Johnnie Johnson, accompanied by the sales and maintenance
teams in an Avro 748.
Marketing stops were made at Tehran and Kuwait before setting off for Bombay and Cochin, hampered by the monsoon weather activity. From the Cochin base the aircraft was flown aboard the Indian Navy carrier INS Vikrant by Farley. In two days he flew 17 sorties from the ship plus two return trips from Cochin to Vikrant. The first days’ operations were to establish handling and performance data relevant to the ship and local conditions (a Dunsfold flight test team led by Eric Crabbe had flown out) and the second day was devoted to flying Indian Navy pilots. Next, interrupted by the heavy monsoon rains, G-VTOL left Cochin, with an IN officer on board, for Goa and thence to Delhi, demonstrating a low level mission requested by the IN. In Delhi there was more IN pilot familiarisation with Hawkes and Andy Jones who had replaced Farley in the team. From Delhi G-VTOL flew via Bombay and Mashrah to Abu Dhabi, one of the Emirates on the Persian Gulf. A demonstration by Hawkes to the Ruler and Minister of Defence had been organised to take place at a semi-prepared strip near Al Ain. Whilst hovering in front of the assembled VIPs a cloud of dust engulfed the aircraft which hit the ground hard breaking an outrigger and the nose leg...end of tour. G-VTOL was flown back to Dunsfold in a Canadair CL-44 Guppy to be repaired and John Farley returned to the Middle East and demonstrated a GRMk1 to show that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the aircraft. Harriers were never sold in that region but the Indian Navy did eventually became an important customer for the Sea Harrier.
G-VTOL flew again in February 1973, did a lot of pilot familiarisation work, made the first of many appearances at the Le Bourget Paris Air Show and was then air-freighted to Rio where it was assembled and air tested prior to an extensive tour of South America managed by John Parker, Kingston's South American marketing executive. The pilots were John Farley and Don Riches. The Tour ran from Sept 12 to October 19 with demonstrations, pilot familiarisations and even carrier operations, during 62 flights. The route was Brazil: Galeo (Rio), San Jose (Sao Paulo), Santa Cruz, San Pedro, Galeo - Paraguay: Asuncion - Bolivia: Cochabamba - Peru: Lima - Ecuador: Guayaquil, Quito, Guayaquil, Quito - Peru: Lima, Las Palmas, Lima where the aircraft was broken down for return to Dunsfold in a CL-44 Guppy. The Sao Paulo Air Show was attended and the Brazilian Navy carrier, Minas Gerais, was visited from Santa Cruz. In spite of generating great technical interest in the Harrier no orders resulted from the tour but spectacular publicity photographs were obtained including G-VTOL flying past the Corcovada statue of Christ at Rio and hovering in front of the enormous airship hangar at Santa Cruz.
Next, in November, a group of French naval aviators was familiarised in preparation for trials on the French Navy carrier Foch, with John Farley again, and later that month G-VTOL was flying from HMS Bulwark. In January 1974 it was off to Algeria, in May it was Italy, September the SBAC Show where the BBC's Raymond Baxter broadcast from the back seat during a Farley demonstration.
Throughout its flying career UK demonstrations and pilot familiarisations were interspersed with the more exciting overseas and development work. In 1975 G-VTOL flew from HMS Engadine, HMS Bulwark and HMS Fearless, attended the Paris Air Show, and trained McDonnell-Douglas test pilots Charlie Plummer and Bill Lowe in the art of jet V/STOL flying. 1976 was a year of UK 'demos. and famils.' but in 1977 'VTOL was flying from HMS Hermes on Harrier CA Release trials and helping celebrate the launching of HMS Invincible, the Sea Harrier's future home, over Barrow-in-Furness, and demonstrating from HMAS Melbourne. In October 'VTOL participated in the ski-jump trials in progress at RAE Bedford with the ramp at 9 degrees; in 1978 the angle was increased through 15 to 17 ½ degrees and in September the first public ski-jump demonstrations were flown at the Farnborough Air Show from a ramp constructed by the Royal Engineers from Fairey Engineering’s medium girder bridge components. Needless to say, this was the highlight of the Show. During the Farnborough show period John Farley flew a Chinese test pilot in ‘VTOL from Dunsfold. As he and Mr Ma had no common language John devised a method of communication involving Morse code and a very thorough briefing with three translators. In November there were more approach and landing procedure development trials on HMS Hermes now that she was fitted with a 12 ½ degree ski-jump. In 1979 the Bedford ski-jump trials were completed with the ramp set to what seemed an impossibly large exit angle of 20 degrees but the Harrier still flew easily and effortlessly away. The Royal Engineers erected their medium girder bridge ski-jump at Le Bourget for the Paris Air Show in June and 'VTOL stole the show again. The year finished with another trip to HMS Hermes.
1980 was a quiet year with servicing at HSA, Holme-on-Spalding Moor, but 'VTOL did appear at the Farnborough Air Show and was evaluated by the Brazilian Air Force. In 1981-82 'VTOL was flown by Indonesian, Chilean, Japanese and Indian pilots and in 1982-83 a large number of Indian Navy pilots were fully trained flying from Dunsfold, RNAS Yeovilton and HMS Hermes in preparation for that service's receipt of Sea Harriers. Swiss Air Force pilots flew 'VTOL in 1984 and there was much chase flying for various Harrier and Hawk development and production programmes. In 1985 there were trials concerned with the development of test pilot Heinz Frick’s 'Skyhook' concept (a stabilised ship-mounted crane for catching hovering Harriers) and a 'photo opportunity' publicity stunt hovering with the British Aerospace privatisation share price painted underneath. As hoped for by the management, photographs were published in all the national daily newspapers gaining wide publicity for the share issue. Pilot training for a Rolls-Royce test pilot, familiarisation flying for an Australian and various chase tasks brought G-VTOL's long and valuable career to a close on 19 February 1986 with 1389 flights and 721 hrs 33 minutes in the log book.
This historic aircraft is now a popular exhibit at Brooklands where an enthusiastic band of volunteers keep her in pristine condition and her systems live.