Harrier XW175 was unique as a military aircraft as it spent all of its
working life at RAE Bedford and Boscombe Down in support of innovative
STOVL research programmes. The photograph opposite shows the aircraft
after its 1000th hour of test flying on 11 June 1993 with the pilots,
scientists and the engineers from Aircraft Department who maintained the
aircraft celebrating the event.
XW175, a two-seat second development batch T2 aircraft, first flew in
1969. It was delivered to RAE Bedford from BAe in February 1975. The
aircraft extended the VTOL legacy at RAE Bedford following the Bedstead
and the Short's SC1, and operated in research and development tasks for
future STOVL concepts.
In the early 1970ís RAE was tasked by MoD to enable Sea Harriers to
recover to a vertical landing on a ship at night in poor visibility.
XW175 was allocated as the trials aircraft and thus began its illustrious
38 year research career at RAE Bedford and then post 1996 at Boscombe
During 1977/78 two sea trials were completed with HMS Hermes. The
research programmes included recovery to the ship using MADGE guidance,
Head Up Display symbology, ski-jump launch, auto-stabiliser and autopilot
development, pilot work-load measurements using heart rate measurements
and later Forward Looking Infra Red vision demonstrations. The aircraft
is illustrated on the deck of HMS Hermes during these trials.
In the early 1980ís, studies into future advanced STOVL aircraft
concepts, as a planned replacement for the Harrier, indicated that flight
control at low speed and hover would be more complex than the Harrier.
This situation started a research programme into novel pilot control
methods to address ASTOVL control and was led by XW175. The basic idea
was that the pilot's control of the aircraft was to be as similar as
possible to conventional aircraft thus significantly reducing type
conversion time for pilots and the training costs.
test the design principles the aircraft had to be converted to a
fly-by-wire aircraft such that digital techniques could be implemented.
The aircraft modifications were made at the College of Aeronautics,
Cranfield, The installations provided a full authority fly-by-wire system
with links to the aerodynamic surface actuators and the engine thrust and
thrust vector control actuation. It retained the basic mechanical control
system to provide flight safety and meet airworthiness requirements. This
approach allowed software to be introduced without having to address the
rigour required to meet the full flight safety standards of fly-by-wire
aircraft. The aircraft was also fitted with the MODAS recording system
and a telemetry system for trials monitoring. The aircraft became known
as the Vectored thrust Aircraft Advanced Control (VAAC).
Over the period 1986-2004, several different control and safety concepts
were developed with UK Universities and Industry. Simulation played a
major role in concept testing and the Bedford Advanced Flight Simulator
with its large motion capability was critical for this task. Concept
designs were assessed against a range of flight specific tasks prior to
flight trials. The most important task was the ability to land vertically
on a rolling, pitching and heaving ship deck which was where the Bedford Advanced Flight Simulator with
its visual and
systems provided a risk free and realistic testing environment. This
method also provided the confidence to proceed to flight trials and
ultimately the first ever deck landing with what became known as the
'Unified' control technique (adjacent photo, with HMS Illustrious, Sept
The implementation allowed an untrained Harrier pilot to fly the aircraft
like a conventional aircraft with the addition that there were no
restrictions due to the conventional wing stall speed. Thus it made
possible the continued control of the aircraft down to zero airspeed with
the wing lift blending from aerodynamic control seamlessly to direct lift
control from the engine without any additional effort required from the
pilot, unlike the conventional Harrier. Initially the technique was not
well received by the majority of experienced Harrier pilots.
Many further assessments were to slowly change the mind set with much
discussion in two pilot camps as to the pros and cons of the technique.
Between the mid 1980's to mid 1990's RAE collaborated with NASA Ames
research centre into the application of advanced digital control
techniques to support ASTOVL aircraft concepts. This joint platform
provided not only an excellent exchange of ideas between UK and US pilots
and scientists but also promoted pilot debate on the merits of such
methods. Pilot acceptability remained unresolved up to the early part of
the Joint Strike Fighter programme. Then the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR)
contribution to the programme through the JSF Program Office (JPO) became
significant through a joint targeted programme in support of the JSF
STOVL variant (Lockheed Martin F-35B).
In 2002 the Bedford Unified control concept was selected for the JSF
STOVL variant. JSF BF-01 is illustrated opposite under the flight control
of the Bedford Unified control method. XW175 was also part of the Empire
Test Pilots School's training syllabus for a few years at this time.
The JPO continued to support further STOVL developments with several ship
trials with XW175 and HMS Illustrious, HMS Invincible and the French
carrier Charles de Gaulle. These trials introduced guidance techniques
for automatic recovery along side a ship with an automatic vertical
landing capability, some 30 years after the original HMS Hermes trials
with XW175 in 1977 and some 35 years after the certification of Civil
automatic landing systems back in the BLEU days. Technology advancements
had bridged this time period and the gradual acceptance of the new
With the established STOVL flight control standard, XW175 in its new
livery continued to support JSF recovery requirements to ships with a 60
knot airspeed approach and landing method referred to as 'Ship Rolling
Vertical Landing' (SRVL). This approach speed provided JSF with ship
recovery flexibility as a percentage of wing lift at this airspeed would
offset engine direct lift and enhance safety margins.
In conjunction with this programme ship deck lighting was developed for
poor visibility and night recovery to ships. This programme produced the
new 'Bedford Array' of deck lights to provide an unambiguous touch down
point irrespective of the ship deck motion. The 'Bedford Array' with SRVL
provided an effective and alternative solution to ship recovery at night
in poor visibility and hence operational flexibility.
Having conducted its last research trial in support of JSF development at
Boscombe Down on 18 November 2008, XW175ís final resting place remains to
be resolved. BAHG has expressed strong interest in bringing the aircraft
back to Bedford, its spiritual home. It is to be hoped that an
appropriate resting place can be found for this illustrious aircraft of
the Harrier fleet, but which became so unique providing the MOD with many
products over its lifetime due to the combined efforts of all the pilots,
scientific staff and engineers who had the great privilege to work with