Sorry about this but…

Dismantled British Harrier Jump Jets Stored at the Infamous Arizona Desert Boneyard

(Image: cactusbillaz, reproduced with permission)

In November 2011, the last British Harrier jump jets were controversially sold for spare parts to the US Marine Corps. The sale, which netted the UK just £116 million ($180 million) for 72 planes, came only a few years after a major, £500 million upgrade to convert ageing Harrier GR7s into GR9s. The decision, which left the UK without a fixed-wing carrier-capable fighter aircraft pending the introduction of the delayed F-35B around 2020, met with fierce criticism – not least because of the latter’s price tag at a projected $156.8 million per plane!

(Image: cactusbillaz, reproduced with permission)

The majority of the gutted Harrier fleet, seen in this series of photographs, languishes at the infamous Boneyard at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona, home to vast numbers of withdrawn USAF, Navy and Marine Corps aircraft that span the decades.

(Image: cactusbillaz, reproduced with permission)

Conflicting reports have circulated that several stored airframes may be reactivated for use by the USMC. Others, meanwhile, have firmly stated that the ex-RAF Harrier GR9 and GR9A jets, plus several trainers, are for spares use only.

(Image: Andrew Evans (website:, reproduced with permission)

The above image shows 58 fuselages, including eight trainers, and 29 sets of wings. At least one wing set is painted in an earlier grey/green camouflage scheme, while the single-seat fuselages are stored in special bags. Several shipping containers accompany the fleet.

(Image: cactusbillaz, reproduced with permission)

The Harrier, a modern marvel first developed by Hawker Siddeley in the 1960s and still the world’s most successful V/STOL fighter, cut its combat teeth during the Falklands War of 1982.

(Image: cactusbillaz, reproduced with permission)

Though several were lost, the aircraft proved deadly against its Argentine opposition in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground roles. The wreckage of one downed RAF Harrier GR3 – XZ988 – can still be seen on East Falkland today.

(Image: cactusbillaz, reproduced with permission)

Meanwhile, several Sea Harriers are used for ground training duties by the School of Flight Deck Operations at RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall. Though older than the GR9s, the Sea Harrier FA2s are maintained in ground running condition. It’s thought the aircraft could be returned to flight status at relatively low cost.

(Image: cactusbillaz, reproduced with permission)

What shall become of the ex-RAF Harrier hulks once the US Marine Corps retires its AV-8B models remains to be seen. But shipping them back to the UK for display at private museums and in enthusiasts’ back gardens will be prohibitively costly.

(Image: cactusbillaz, reproduced with permission)

Perhaps some machines will find their way into well-funded American aviation collections, only to be rebuilt and returned to the air, where the rules governing the use of ex-military aircraft are less strict than in the UK.

(Image: Chris Pasley, reproduced with permission)

Mad as it seems, there is precedent. The irony of losing its Harriers early only for a handful to fly again in civilian hands would be the icing on the cake for UK aviation fans. Of course we’re dreaming. But if scrap were to be their fate anyway, perhaps the US is the best place for them after all.

(Image: via Wikipedia, public domain)

We’ll leave you with this digitally manipulated image from inside a Harrier cockpit on takeoff from HMS Ark Royal. With no fixed-wing aircraft left to operate from her flight deck, the Royal Navy flagship was decommissioned and finally towed to a Turkish shipbreakers in 2013.

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