A USAF Harrier? Not Quite…
Now displayed in the NMUSAF’s new fourth building, this display aircraft might well be mistaken for a first-generation Harrier, which in turn might raise some questions as to why it is preserved at Dayton, given that the USAF has never operated Harriers? The answer is that it is not a Harrier, not quite.
The Hawker-Siddeley Kestrel is a direct ancestor of the Harrier family, albeit one several generations removed from today’s AV-8Bs. The UK’s original plans for a V/STOL strike fighter, following the P.1127 demonstrator, called for procurement of the much larger, supersonic P.1154, to be called the Harrier. This would be preceded by a small number of service test aircraft, based more directly on the P.1127, that would serve to gain experience with V/STOL aircraft in a frontline environment. In the event, the P.1154 would be cancelled, and the “service test” type would in fact end up serving as the basis for an operational aircraft, more austere than the P.1154, and appropriating the Harrier name.
The P.1127-derived Kestrel FGA.1s went on to serve with Tri-Parite UK/West Germany/US evaluation squadron, following which most were turned over to the US for further testing, including the example preserved at Dayton.
Photo: In-flight shot from above of P.1127 XS688 for the TES. Air Pictorial May 1964 front cover
Stephen P. Peltz “Kestrel Evaluation squadron” Air Pictorial November 1965