Introduced in the late 1960s, the Harrier ‘jump jet’ was a major breakthrough in military aviation. It was the first jet fighter capable of taking off and landing vertically. This unique ability made it ideally suited to carrier operations as well as land based close support roles. Whereas a conventional fighter squadron could be grounded by knocking out a runway, the Harrier was immune. It could operate from a field clearing and land anywhere a helicopter could.
To this day, no other aircraft has been able to duplicate the Harrier’s success. The new F-35B, which weighs twice as much as the Harrier, rarely exercises its vertical take-off capability due to the massive fuel expenditure required. Due to this limitation, the F-35B is referred to as a STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) aircraft. Close, but no cigar.
I was able to see a Harrier do a vertical take-off one autumn many years ago at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada. It was an unforgettable sight.