Book Review: Harrier, the biography by Jonathan Glancey

Published by Atlantic Books ISBN-13: 978-1-84354-891-1 £20 ©2013

Jonathan Glancey’s new ‘biography’ (he wrote one for the Spitfire), is not the first history of the iconic jump jet, in service with 4 services around the world, yet it is the most up-to-date and a fitting tribute to it.

Glancey tells the story of the birth of vertical flight, including all the side stories of centuries of man trying to fly. This culminates in all the factions that came together from various designers around the world which resulted in the P1127, the predecessor to all the Harriers that followed. He writes in an easy, readable style ( I finished the book in a few days of sporadic reading), and gives details of artifacts, designers, statesmen and politicians along the way and who are intrinsically involved with the development of the Harrier. This detail adds to the overall enjoyment of what is a protracted and difficult journey leading to the in-service success of what is a well-loved and recognised combat aircraft. Glancey builds the story well quoting liberally from those closely involved with the design and operation of the aircraft, and seeks to justify the controversy and opposition to the whole project. He does this successfully as well as drawing a well-observed comparison between the Harrier and the F35 using quotes from people who have been involved with both aircraft.

But ultimately the end of the story covers the end of the UK armed forces operation and the decisions made by the coalition to withdraw the Harrier from service and the fury that decision invoked. But to balance this the F35 is seen by many observers to be a quantum leap in fast jet technology over the Harrier. The jury will remain out until the F35 has been in service for some time. I enjoyed this book, mainly because of my association with the Harrier, but also because of the subtle history lessons it contains when describing some aspect of the Harrier. I also liked some of his quotes especially from High Flight written by Pilot Officer Magee in 1943. This biography is a fitting obituary to the RAF and Royal Navy Harriers, but their legacy lives on in the US Marines, Spanish Marina, Italian Marine and the Indian Navy. Long may it continue.

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