A Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1 of No 233 Operational Conversion Unit is prepared for a sortie from a field base in Germany in the early 1970s.
From struggling to retain interest from its home government, the P.1127/Kestrel, following its development into the unique Harrier, became a highly desirable item and attracted orders from other countries, most notably the USA, the type entering service with the US Marine Corps as the slightly modified AV-8A in the spring of 1971.
Although bearing a legend reading “Hawker Siddeley P.1127” on its forward fuselage, this is in fact the first Kestrel, XS688, which made its maiden flight on March 7, 1964. The Bristol Siddeley Pegasus 5-engined Kestrel was fitted with a reconnaissance camera in an “eyelid” mounting in the extreme nose and a Ferranti gunsight.
Between the P.1127 prototypes and the Harrier came the Kestrel, three examples of which are seen here living up to the type’s namesake by hovering over open lowland near the Tripartite Evaluation Squadron’s base at West Raynham. A total of nine Kestrels was built for extensive flight testing by the pilots of the Luftwaffe, USAF, US Navy, US Army and RAF, under the command of the latter.
In June 1966 Hawker Siddeley test pilot Hugh Merewether conducted trials with P.1127 XP984 aboard Centaur-class light fleet aircraft carrier HMS Bulwark, demonstrating the type’s extraordinary flexibility in any environment, from holes in the woods to pitching carrier decks. This aircraft survives today and is on long-term display at Brooklands Museum in Surrey.
Hawker Siddeley P.1127 (Bristol Siddeley Pegasus vectored-thrust turbofan)
The first of the four Development Batch P.1127s, XP972 made its maiden flight on April 5, 1962. Its early test programme explored the properties of what was known as the “fourth wing” to be fitted to the type, shown to good effect here, with extended leading edges and curved wingtips - known as “poor man’s streamwise tips”.
Five of the nine Kestrels await a sortie with the Tripartite Evaluation Squadron (TES) at West Raynham in August 1965. The Tripartite Agreement between the UK, USA and West Germany was signed in Paris on January 16, 1963, on the basis of the cost of three aircraft and a third of development costs being borne by each nation.
Kestrel XS694, coded “4” while with the TES, in its natural habitat operating from a dirt track in Thetford Forest. The TES was established on November 15, 1964, flying trials commencing on April 1, 1965. After eight months of tests involving operational procedures by day and night, the trials concluded on November 30 that year.