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VSTOL flight celebrated at Dunsfold

It was 50 years ago that test pilot Bill Bedford lifted off in the prototype Hawker P.1127 at Dunsfold. Two Harriers recently paid a return visit, just weeks before the type is retired from service with British forces.


One of the 4(R) Squadron Harriers makes a last bow at the type's spiritual home of Dunsfold in Surrey. All images courtesy Bob Franklin unless stated otherwise.

On November 18 the owner of Dunsfold Park in Surrey was delighted to welcome the Harrier back to the aerodrome to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first vertical flight.

On November 19, 1960 Dunsfold Aerodrome was owned by Hawker Aircraft Ltd. and used as its flight-test centre. At nearby Kingston, development of the Harrier was well underway with the prototype aircraft, the P.1127, into its test programme at Dunsfold. In 1959 the Ministry of Supply had issued Specification ER.204D and six prototypes (XP831, XP836, XP972, XP976, XP980 and XP984) were constructed.

The last of six P.1127 prototypes (XP964) made its first flight in October 1963 and is today preserved at the Brooklands aviation museum, seen here before it was moved inside. Aviation News
The P.1127 was the brainchild of Sir Stanley Hooker from Bristol Engines and Sir Sydney Camm, chief of Hawker Aircraft, to simplify the problem of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) by eliminating separate engines for the respective modes and adopting a single engine fitted with rotatable exhaust nozzles – vectored thrust. The marriage of engine and airframe was consummated by Ralph Hooper from Hawker-Kingston, who put the BS.53 Pegasus 2 turbojet into a refined airframe where low weight was at a premium, as the thrust of the engine had to more than equal the mass of the aircraft for it to achieve VTOL.

Two dedicated facilities were built at Dunsfold; a ground running pen for testing the aircraft's engine and a special grid for hovering trials. The latter was designed to duct away the exhaust of the Pegasus engine, eliminating adverse effects such as thrust losses due to re-ingestion of the hot gases. This was essential, as the thrust of the engine was initially only adequate to lift the aircraft if all extraneous equipment (such as radios) was stripped out and with the aircraft carrying fuel for only a few minutes of flight.

Harrier GR9 ZD321 from 4(R) Squadron, RAF Wittering.
Preparations continued at Dunsfold over the summer and autumn of 1960 with engine running trials and system tests conducted ahead of the initial set of hovering flights. The first of these finally took place on October 21, 1960 with Bill Bedford at the controls. For this initial series of tests the aircraft was tethered to the grid with short cables to limit the height it could lift - limited by one-foot tethers, and with Bill Bedford's right leg in plaster following a car accident, the first hover was successfully completed. Once reasonable control was demonstrated the tethers were removed and free hovers could commence on November 19, 1960. The first conventional flight was achieved on March 13, 1961 at Royal Aircraft Establishment Bedford.

An order for 60 production aircraft was received from the Royal Air Force in mid-1966 and the first pre-production Harriers, then known as the P.1127 (RAF), were flying by mid-1967, becoming known as Harrier GR1. The Harrier entered RAF service in July 1969 with the first aircraft being issued to No. 1 Squadron at RAF Wittering in Cambridgeshire, where it has been based ever since. Sir Sydney Camm died on March 12, 1966, so would not live to see the outstanding success of this truly revolutionary aircraft.

Making a splash at Dunsfold - it was very wet on November 18!
50 years later
Due to heavy fog on November 16, the Harrier Display Team finally touched down on Dunsfold’s runway two days later to celebrate 50 years of vertical landings.

Among the watching crowd were a host of ex-Harrier personnel, including test pilots Duncan Simpson and John Farley as well as Members of the Hawker Association.

Duncan Simpson (centre left), Jim McAllister, Chief Executive of Dunsfold Park Ltd. (centre) and Jon Farley (centre right) are flanked by the two Harrier pilots on November 18.
Jim McAllister, Chief Executive of Dunsfold Park Ltd. said “Dunsfold Aerodrome has a rich aviation history and the incredibly versatile Harrier is a significant part of that. This week, 50 years ago, aviation history was made with the first vertical take-off and it is with great sadness that today we are witnessing another historical moment as the aircraft performs one of its last flights. An iconic symbol of aviation, the Harrier will continue to be remembered and celebrated at Dunsfold and we would like to thank RAF Wittering and the Harrier team for joining us on this special day.”

Filed Under Historic Aviation Features.


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Peter Bewers said on the 19-Nov-2010 at 20:41

To take this amazing British invention out of service is crazy, the Falklands War would not have won without the Harrier which can fly in any direction as well as very fast forward.
Just a bit more of this wonderfull new government leadership we have all been waiting for ??

Richard Samwell. said on the 21-Nov-2010 at 00:33

Peter, Icouldn't agree more.
I believe that with the 'Untimely' withdrawl of the Harrier that makes three major defensive assets that this 'Wonderful New Government'lol of ours has dispensed with.
The Harrier,
H.M.S. Ark Royal,
The Nimrod.
Harrier speaks for itself. Apart from VTOL, She didn't need a Runway and could be well hidden
if needed. Her Record speaks for itself.
The Ark Royal, With her decommisioning the Royal Navy has lost a 'Major' surface asset
Capable of Operating both Harrier & Helicopters.
I, like some others, shudder to think what the
outcome would be should Argentina decide to make a concerted invasion of the 'Falklands' again.
And lastly, Nimrod, without it we have lost a Major 'Long Range Maritime' Defense and S.A.R. package, far better equipped than her
(so called) replacements, and, 'Paid for. At the moment Our Deterrent Subs (while they are on the surface) on sailing 'Unprotected' while we wait for their ''Replacements'' to arrive.
(From the U.S.A. and France, which I understand are well passed their 'sell by dates).

As I have said before, until those in their ''Ivory Towers (H.M.G.) START Listening to those who Know what they're talking about, then then the Defense of this country will continue to take a back seat compared to Other Departments.

mike yates said on the 21-Nov-2010 at 20:53

The government is a JOKE, the ministers are a JOKE, the decisions they make are a JOKE. We are witnessing the systematic demise of our country`s defence industry. With Harrier gone,we have no follow on dedicated close air support aircraft in the pipeline. Like it or not, Bae are the only contractor in this country capable of producing our own aircraft, but where are the orders, there is no mid sized aircraft coming up...No new Hawk replacement..nothing..we`ll miss them soon enough, but then it will be too late.
Imagine the uproar when we have to join the long queue at Boeings or Lockheeds factory door...

Richard Samwell. said on the 21-Nov-2010 at 23:41

Mike, you are right on the button, this This New Government has made this Country ONE SICK JOKE. We are now the BIGGEST LAUGHING STOCK IN THE WORLD. How These Jokers in Power in Whitehall can say they are fit to Govern beats me!. If they carry on at the same rate, We'll have no defense system left. No Army No Navy No Air Force, The U.S. National Guard will be bigger!. Now that WILL be Sad. I've said it before, Stop spending so much on''FOREIGN AID''. Then Maybe, Just Maybe, we can Afford to keep our ''Most Needed'' assets.

Peter Bewers said on the 22-Nov-2010 at 12:33

Thanks Mike & Richard for your repy, we have already seen the run down of our Pasenger Aircraft Manufacturing ' GONE ' nothing even to replace the Bae / Avro Regional Wisper Jet !
Now the same thing apears to be happening to our Military Aircraft production.
Remember the TSR2 ? Mr Roy Jenkins said it would be better to scap it and buy from Uncle Sam, and we all know what happened , the American Aircraft was not only a fraction of what the TSR2 would have been but actualy cost the UK tax payer more !
Some people never seem to learn do they.

mike yates said on the 22-Nov-2010 at 15:25

Talking of our politicians Cameron says; Don`t panic, its all o.k. the Russians are gonna save Britain and Europe from the "Iranian nuclear missile threat" ...well if anyone has the destruction codes for THOSE missiles it WILL be the Russians won`t it... But hang on... Who`s gonna save us from the Chinese..

Peter Bewers said on the 24-Nov-2010 at 22:51

Dont Worry Mike, as Corpral Jone,s used to say to Capt Manwering, Dont Panick ! Dont Panick !
Were all run by Dads Army now.

Just leave it all to Uncle Sam !

mike yates said on the 25-Nov-2010 at 00:49

Perish the thought Peter, anyway why should we give THEM the script for a Hollywood movie to come out in twenty years time....

andrew johnson said on the 15-Dec-2010 at 19:20

Well Alfred William "Bill" Bedford; you passed away a few years ago and now the government has passed away your greatest ever test flight of the harrier. Both be truly missed but together again at last.

Denis F Thaddeus said on the 23-May-2013 at 17:22

I was a little boy when i witnessed XP 831 take off for the first time.i didn't understand that she was tethered, & felt disappointed when she didn't fly away.

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