The Day I Flew The Harrier... of sorts.
Updated: Mar 21, 2021
I am reminded of when I flew the US Marine Corps AV8B Harrier VSTOL Jet Fighter, sometimes lovingly referred to as “The jump Jet” or “ The Street Fighter.” (Think TRUE LIES, the movie). I flew it twice about 20 some years ago. Well, more accurately, I flew the simulator! It's a $100 million dollar flight simulator, an accurately functioning cockpit that sits 20 feet in the air with a six fold screen that surrounds it. The computer generated graphics are of the actual 400 square mile area of coastal eastern North Carolina, which is where I lived at the time. I had the privilege of flying it on two separate occasions for 3 hours at a pop, Sunday nights from midnight until 3 am when it was not in use training the young pilots.
To date, other than my wedding day or witnessing the birth of my precious three children or 9 grandchildren, it has been the single greatest thing I have ever done – Certainly hands down the most thrilling. After "flying" I remember feeling perturbed and just a tad bit jealous that these 26 year old youngsters could fly these amazing $40 million dollar aircrafts and I couldn’t. I will say this, my respect for these young men sky rocketed after that. Now, as then, I would sign 20 years today if they told me I could fly them . . .
The Harrier Jump Jet takes off like a conventional airplane/jet or like a helicopter – vertically by adjusting the exhaust nozzles directly downward. (This plane can even fly backwards while in the hover mode). As a young man, my dad flew the old F4U Corsair during WWII, the sexy, sleek, black prop jet that helped win the war in the Pacific – same plane Pappy Boyington flew. My dad came to NC to visit me and I was able to get him in to fly the Harrier too. It blew him away.
I remember while sitting in the cockpit in hover mood about 50 feet off the ground, as well as in traditional flight on approach to land, and thinking, there way too much going on in the cockpit to be able to concentrate. The engineer, sitting comfortably in the control room with a smile on his face, would have fun throwing out all kinds of problems and emergency situations to see how I would handle it. He would cause severe overheating and, or engine failure among other potential problems to see how I would handle it.
Loud alarms blared in my ears while I desperately looked at the myriad of instruments to try and determine what was happening before I crashed and burned! On one traditional landing approach I was about 20 feet off the ground and my ears split from the warning alarms blasting in my ear again. I had no clue what was wrong this time. I thought I had everything perfect: correct air speed, flaps in the right position, wings level, perfect rate of descent, my best traditional landing of the night.
Apparently, I forgot to lower my landing gear. Like I said, too much going on in the cockpit! I felt every emotion one would feel in this situation, as if I were actually flying (and crashing). Glad I didn't feel it physically too.
All that aside, to me, there was nothing more thrilling than #1. pulling the control handle of the vector nozzles straight back (turns the exterior exhaust nozzles pointing down) and then , #2. pushing the throttle lever next to it straight forward and taking off vertically, hovering in air, then #3. pushing forward the nozzle control lever and punching forward in traditional flight, and being thrown back in the seat as I accelerated to 450 knots . . .
SIGN ME UP.
The pneumatic computer shot air in the seat under my calves and knees and deflated in the back of the seat which threw me backwards in my seat giving me the actual feel of extreme acceleration. The matching graphics in front of me added to the realistic sensations.
I say again: SIGN ME UP!
I remember for two weeks after flying the Harrier, I dreamed of sneaking onto the military base (Cherry Point Marine Base) and stealing one of the Harriers off the flight line and flying it out of there undetected. They were the type of dreams that when you wake up you swear it was so realistic it actually took place. In my dream I remember following all the actual procedures to fly it, and just like the simulator it was very vivid and realistic! Perhaps one day I will yet again get to fly the simulator, or better still, the real thing!
Hey I can dream can’t I?