Tuesday, August 2, 2011

US Marines AV-8B Harrier II

The operational success of the earlier AV-8A/C had confirmed the US Marine Corps' belief in VSTOL technology and its advantages for their particular type of warfare. What was needed now was a follow-on aircraft that met the Corps' future requirements for a 'light attack' aircraft that carried a big punch. The unique Harrier, previously much maligned by the US military as 'not being able to carry a matchbox across a football field' had matured into a very capable aircraft which the US Marine Corps saw as a highly valued asset. The need for a new generation of VSTOL galvanised studies undertaken by McDonnell Douglas, following their abortive collaborative AV-16 'Advanced Harrier' effort with the UK. These studies came under the aegis of the AV-8A Plus, a much less ambitious programme than the AV-16, which delighted the Marines who wanted the Harrier to be simple and survivable. In turn this became the AV-8B Program, which was originally proposed in 1973 and formalised by the Defence Armed Services Committee in March 1976. Central to this new breed of Harrier was an advanced big-wing', originally proposed by Hawker and later derived from NASA-based technology of supercritical aerofoils, where the drag was reduced and the lift increased. To achieve the maximum benefits in terms of weight saving, advanced structural materials were used instead of traditional metal, and a unique graphite epoxy construction gave the AV-8B the first carbon-fibre technology wing fitted to a military aircraft.