The Canberra F3 had proven the concept of the long range missile interceptor able to roam freely over the ocean to shoot down bombers before they were able to launch their own stand-off weapons. But while the Canberra was adequate it was not totally ideal and soon the British government were searching for a replacement. A specification was issued for an aircraft with supersonic performance but with an operational range in excess of a thousand miles from its base without the need for air-to-air refueling.
The Hawker Aircraft Corporation had recently gained the intellectual property for a handful of Tupolev designs among them the TU-128. In order to speed up development time and get their foot in the door first Hawker decided to tailor the TU-128 to the RAF's demanding specifications. The programme was placed under the charge of Dr C.D. Wilkins of Hawker's large aircraft bureau.
The team led by Wilkins ran straight into difficulty thanks largely to the RAF who were constantly modifying their requirements for the aircraft. In the initial specification the aircraft was to be operated by Coastal Command in the maritime air superiority role and by Fighter Command in the long range penetration fighter role. It was to have supersonic performance with long endurance and more importantly look-down/shoot-down capability with pulse Doppler radar. Wilkins believed this could be achieved by mating the TU-128 with Rolls-Royce Olympus afterburning turbofan engines and the Broadlight radar system. As production of the prototype began at Hawker's facility in Loughborough the RAF changed the specification. In the new specification the aircraft had to have a secondary strike and anti-shipping capability with Martel missiles.
The weight of these weapons required strengthening of the main wing spar which in turn added weight to the already quite heavy aircraft. This delayed the first flight from the predicted February 1970 to January 1971. The additional roles the aircraft were expected to undertake also meant a reworking of the already overly complex Broadlight radar to add air-to-ground modes. To make matters worse the Saunders-Roe company was developing its own aircraft to meet the RAF's needs. This was a wholly new design and was more easily tailored to the requirement than Hawker's aircraft.Then Fighter Command further complicated by matters by deciding that the new aircraft (either Hawker's aircraft or Saunders-Roe's design) should take over the carriage of the Orange Piano II nuclear armed air-to-air missile. This was because the previous aircraft assigned to carry this weapon, the Fairey Skyshark F.2, was being withdrawn from RAF service and being transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force. Fortunately the weapon required little modification to the aircraft but it was a further redesign.
As the original first flight date passed the RAF added insult to injury by cancelling the requirement to carry Martel but the secondary bombing ability remained. In order to not slow down development any further Hawker decided to proceed ahead as planned following the RAF's original rethink. Therefore the result was an aircraft that had all the correct load points for Martel but lacked the necessary wiring.
On January 13th 1971 the prototype was rolled out of the Loughborough factory. Among the gathered guests were American journalists who quickly sent messages to the United States that the British were now '...in the pocket of the Soviets". This ignored the extent to which the aircraft incorporated British equipment. So many changes were made that the resemblance between the new Hawker aircraft and its Soviet forebear was only superficial with the two aircraft sharing less than 30% commonality of parts.
The aircraft made its first flight from Loughborough five days later on January 18th 1971 (the first flight was scheduled for the day before but was cancelled last minute). At the controls was Flight Lieutenant Alan D. Wilkins, the son of the chief designer Dr. Wilkins and a serving Canberra F.3 pilot with No.19 Squadron. Escorted by an EE Lightning T.8 acting as a chase plane the aircraft remained aloft for one hour and fifty five minutes. As was standard practice the landing gear remained lowered for the entire flight. Even in this configuration the aircraft proved to be overpowered with only slight increases in throttle causing the aircraft to surge forwards. The reason for this was that the aircraft was lighter than the TU-128 version but the two Olympus power plants developed almost 60% more power.
Over the next twelve months the aircraft underwent an extensive test program. The Hawker team had the lead on Saunders-Roe's aircraft which was yet to get airborne. The excessive power of the engines was controlled by a limiter switch in the cockpit which allowed the engines to operate with reduced power in non-combat flight even if the pilot opens the throttle all the way. The aircraft quickly earned the title 'Beast' by its test pilots and the name would stick throughout the aircraft's career. On February 1st 1971 the aircraft went supersonic and achieved a speed of Mach 1.7. Although the aircraft had the potential to go faster it was believed that this was the best speed to allow the aircraft to go without putting additional stress on the airframe.Weapon testing began on October 17th 1971. The aircraft flew with a live Red Top air-to-air missile and after practicing locking up a Supermarine Swift pilotless drone the aircraft fired its missile which successfully destroyed the drone. Additional testing included firings of Radar Red Top and Radar Red Top ER . Air-to-ground weapons (which remained a requirement on paper but was taking on less importance with each passing day) began with carrying dummy bombs and empty SNEB rocket pods.
Meanwhile, Saunders-Roe were running into more and more difficulty with their own design. With no first flight expected before 1974 the Air Ministry pulled the plug on the Saunders-Roe aircraft in December 1971 and announced that Hawker's aircraft, now named Harlot (initially as a joke by Air Staff officers but then adopted officially) was ordered into production. 80 aircraft were order for Coastal Command (who would take priority for the new aircraft) along with 9 trainers. Fighter Command were to receive 60 fighters and 9 trainers.
At the point of their greatest achievement they suffered their greatest disaster when the prototype Harlot crashed on a navigation assessment flight over the Outer Hebrides. Both crew were killed. Investigation revealed that the cause was multiple bird strikes with gulls. The project was only marginally disrupted however as the second prototype was almost completed at that point.
Trainer VariantEditThe third prototype was of the ungainly looking trainer version which featured an instructor's cockpit in place of the radar. From here the instructor could simulate numerous in flight emergencies and even enemy targets, he had total control over what the radar operator in second seat saw. The two-seater was criticized heavily however for being a much more clumsy aircraft in flight and as a result did not adequately represent the fighter version for the trainee pilot. Nevertheless the aircraft went into production and the first examples delivered to the RAF were T.2 two-seaters.
Into ServiceEditThe first aircraft delivered to the RAF were six F.1s and nine T.2s delivered to No.231 Operational Training Unit (OTU) at RAF Coningsby in April 1973. The first front line squadron was No.111, which formed on the type on November 13th 1973 and was declared to RAF Coastal Command in the maritime air superiority role operating out of RAF Kinloss in Scotland. No.19 Squadron would be declared operational at RAF Leuchars two months later.
Then the RAF struck another blow to Hawker's latest aircraft. After reassessing the potential usage of the aircraft, Fighter Command determined that they no longer had a need for such an aircraft with both the need for the Orange Piano II weapon and the penetration-fighter role diminishing. This left Coastal Command as the only operator. Three further squadrons would be formed on the type bringing the total up to five plus the OTU.
One of the biggest criticisms of the original Harlot was that unlike many smaller aircraft such as the CAC Phantom the aircraft only had four weapon pylons. A crash program was therefore instigated to improve the weapons carrying capability of the aircraft with four additional pylons. Two of these pylons were mounted between the numbers 1/4 pylons and the wingtips. The other pylons were added just under the intakes which required additional strengthening of the fuselage which added weight. The new pylons also saw an unavoidable increase in drag on the aircraft. No.44 Squadron converted onto the F.3 in 1982 followed by No.111 Squadron a year later.
Harlot F.3AEditA small number of F.3s were trialed operationally with an Infra-Red Search And Track System (IRST) to supplement the radar. It was felt that Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) was advancing to the point where it looked as though radar would soon be rendered useless and an IRST offered the capability of electronically tracking enemy aircraft where countermeasures are far more limited.
The IRST fitted to the Harlot F.3A was designed by a team of optronics experts at the University of Edinburgh and was fitted with a telescope to increase range. Despite a promising series of early tests the system was never widely adopted as radar technology continued to advance making jamming less effective.
Combat History (pre-1991)Edit
The Third Cod WarEditOn December 21st 1975 a British fishing vessel operating in the disputed Icelandic Economic Exclusion Zone which Britain at that time was disputing, found itself being shadowed by an Icelandic S-2 Tracker maritime patrol aircraft which had 20mm gun pods under the wings. The aircraft fired warning shots ahead of the fishing boat to get it to stop while an Icelandic Coast Guard vessel made its way to the scene to apprehend them. The skipper of the frightened crew put out a mayday call claiming that his vessel was under attack by the S-2.
The RAF responded by diverting a patrolling English Electric Canberra AEW.1 airborne early warning aircraft and a Hawker Harlot F.1 from No.19 Squadron to intercept the aircraft. The Canberra began tracking the S-2 and monitored the Icelandic aircraft moving in a manner that looked like it was strafing the fishing vessel (in fact it was making observation passes on the vessel). The skipper of the fishing boat repeated his mayday that he was under attack and the message was passed to Downing Street who ordered the RAF to shoot down the S-2 in order to protect its citizens.
The Harlot fired a Radar Red Top AAM at a range of 12 miles. The crew aboard the fishing vessel observed the missile strike the port wing of the aircraft, severing it causing the fuselage to tumble out of the sky. All four crew aboard the S-2 were killed. A British inquest after the incident ruled that the shooting down of the S-2 was unwarranted and could only have been justified if the aircraft had actually fired directly at the fishing vessel. The blame for the shootdown was placed on the exaggerated mayday calls made by the skipper of the fishing boat.
The Falklands WarEdit
When the Argentine military annexed the Falkland Islands it was clear that the bulk of the air effort to retake the islands would be carrier based due to the very long ranges involved for land based aircraft (at the time nobody expected the war to spill over into Chile). However as an early gesture of the Commonwealth's resolve to recapture the islands a flight of Harlot F.3s from No.111 Squadron landed in South Africa with the plan of flying long range missions to South Georgia initially to deny the Argentinian military use of its maritime patrol aircraft. This would involve the aircraft carrying long range ferry tanks and conduct inflight refueling a number of times.
On April 17th the first mission was flown and was wrought with difficulty. Two Harlots took off from a blustery RSAF Woongara in western South Africa and after two refuellings from RSAF tankers they reached South Georgia some four hours after take off only to find very little in the way of trade before they headed back. Given the overall superiority of Commonwealth naval air power no further missions were undertaken and the aircraft returned to the UK.
Testing DutiesEditIts large size meant that the Harlot was an ideal platform for conducting numerous weapon and systems tests during its career. Trainer Harlots were routinely used as chase planes for testing of the BAC Conqueror with a camera and operator positioned where the instructor normally sat in the nose. To help with filming the framed canopy was replaced by a large one piece canopy.
Between 1977 and 1980 the Harlot was used for testing the new Air Dart AAM designed to deny an enemy use of their AWACS planes. Once development was completed a few front line Harlots were modified to carry the weapon for use against maritime patrol planes but the weapon was seldom carried by Harlots.