AV-8B Harrier II: The Pepsi Plane

Back in the 90s this aircraft cost almost 30 million dollars. Or, 7 million Pepsi points!

The Harrier II was one of the unique aircraft in all aviation history. While she wouldn’t win awards for beauty, this aircraft won the hearts of all who flew in it.

Based on the groundbreaking British Hawker-Siddelely Harrier (the first-ever operational vertical takeoff and short landing aircraft), the Harrier II was the beefed-up and mightier successor for the United States Air Force.

The McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) AV-8B Harrier II was a single-engine ground-attack aircraft that, like its venerable ancestor, was capable of vertical or short takeoff and landing (V/STOL).

The aircraft was mostly used for light attacks or multi-role tasks, such as armed reconnaissance or close air support for ground troops. She proved so successful that other navies, like the Spanish Navy, the Italian Navy, and the United States Marine Corps (USMC), all operated the AV-8B.

The Harrier II’s story began in the early-1970s when the US and the UK collaborated on a project to remedy the operational shortcomings of the first-generation Hawker Siddeley Harrier. This research finally resulted in the development of the AV-8B.

Early efforts focused on building a bigger, more potent Pegasus engine to increase the Harrier's capabilities significantly. Budgetary restrictions forced the UK to discontinue the project in 1975, however.

Despite this, McDonnell Douglas heavily reworked the original AV-8A Harrier to produce the AV-8B in response to the UK's withdrawal.

The Harrier II incorporated a new, larger composite wing with an additional hardpoint on each side, an elevated cockpit, a revised fuselage, and other structural and aerodynamic modifications while maintaining the fundamental shape of its predecessor. Not to mention its overhauled Pegasus engine for drastically improved power.

The AV-8B flew for the first time in November 1981 and joined the USMC in January 1985. Later modifications gave the AV-8B(NA) and AV-8B Harrier II Plus versions their respective night-attack and radar capabilities.

In 1981, the UK re-joined the revised Harrier program as a partner through British Aerospace, giving it a sizable work-share in the project. Boeing and BAE Systems have teamed up to assist the program since business acquisitions in the 1990s.

All in all somewhere in the region of 340 were built over 22 years up to the year 2003.

AV-8Bs have taken part in several military and humanitarian operations, demonstrating their versatility as assets. They are typically operated from small aircraft carriers, big amphibious assault ships, and straightforward operating sites.

Additionally, it has been employed since 2001 in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and since 2003 in Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya. Harrier II aircraft from Italy and Spain have participated in international battles with NATO coalitions. The time spent in the crucial takeoff and landing phases directly correlates to the AV-8B's high accident rate throughout its service lifespan.

But, all good things must come to an end, and the Harrier II finally retired in 2003. The cutting-edge Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II replaced the aging AV-8Bs used by the USMC and Italian Navy, with the former expecting to continue using its Harriers until 2025.

While the Harrier II may now be obsolete, technically speaking, the aircraft will live on forever in the halls of fame of great aircraft.