The American order for the Harrier was a tremendous
boost to the Kingston-based team, not only providing greater security
for the Harrier programme but also helping to gain greater acceptance
for the whole V/STOL concept. By early 1969 the full range of
flight tests necessary for CA release to the RAF were complete,
with the first five production aircraft joining the development
batch machine's in trials. The Harrier was already showing that
it had many commendable qualities over and above its V/STOL abilities.
It was nearly impossible to spin. It was already demonstrably
reliable and easy to maintain. And it was possibly the most potent
single-seat strike aircraft in the world. All of these helped
to reduce the levels of hostility that had previously existed
from some elements of the RAF as thay began to get to grips with
the aircraft themselves.
Harrier GR.1 taking off from an unprepared site.
Harrier GR.1 in flight over mountainous terrain.
On 1 January the RAF established the Harrier Conversion
Team at Wittering, although it spent the first few months of the
year at Dunsfold training the initial group of Harrier pilots.
All training at this stage was on single-seat Harriers - the first
two-seat aircraft did not fly until April 1969 and the first delivery
to the RAF was not until July 1970 - after a preliminary helicopter
course to experience vertical flight. The HCT officially began
operations on 1 April 1969, with the main effort over the summer
being aimed at training the pilots of the first operational squadron,
No. 1 Squadron RAF (motto In Omnibus Princeps - in all things
first). This squadron was re-formed on 1 October, being declared
to the RAF order on battle on 1 January 1970, thereby becoming
the first front-line, jet V/STOL unit in the world. In the midst
of the training two aircraft took part in the Trans-Atlantic Air
Race of May 1969, being declared winners of the westbound leg
from London to Manhattan.
Almost uniquely for a post-war British combat
aircraft, the Harrier programme was on time and on cost - a feat
that aroused comment in Parliament! After more than twelve years
of work at Kingston and Bristol, after political and military
indecision, the P.1127 series had matured as a combat aircraft.
Although the methods of operation to be used in service and the
future development of the aircraft were unclear, the success of
the programme was already proven. The Harrier had arrived.