A unique Harrier jump-jet testbed, saved by The Helicopter Museum (THM) at Weston-super-Mare from being scrapped eight years ago, is going on loan to the Hucknall Flight Test Museum (HUFTM) under the jurisdiction of the Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, after the museums reached agreement on restoring the aircraft and displaying it at the Rolls-Royce site in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire.
The unusual aircraft was especially built in the early 1980s to test a Rolls-Royce Pegasus turbofan engine modified with plenum chamber burning (PCB), intended to substantially increase the power for the proposed supersonic P1154 “Super Harrier”. The Pegasus engine installation was further fitted with a pair of reheat units, taken from a Tornado combat aircraft. Many of the component parts of the engine used in the PCB Harrier project were also developed and manufactured on the Hucknall site. The HUFTM is therefore a highly relevant location for this unique heritage artefact to finally go on display. The work actually required the cannibalisation of two Harrier airframes, the wing of T2 XW264 married to the fuselage of GR.1 XV798, with an extended steel cage centre section and gantry attachments added to enable the composite aircraft to be hung at various angles in an especially built suspended rig at the MoD Proof and Experimental Establishment at Shoeburyness, Essex. This test rig was very similar in concept to the original tethered gantry arrangement used for the pioneering initial flights of the famous Flying Bedstead at Hucknall, in the early 1950’s.
Testing in the rig began in 1983 and continued through 1986 but in the event the P1154 project was cancelled and, although PCB research continued for application to newer VSTOL projects, the Harrier testbed was abandoned. In 1994 it was salvaged by volunteers and placed in storage with the Bristol Aero Collection, but the closure of their Kemble base in 2012 saw the aircraft threatened with being scrapped. Instead The Helicopter Museum stepped in and it was transported to Weston-super-Mare for continued storage, pending plans to build a new hangar and construct a new gantry to properly display the unique exhibit.
Unfortunately funding for this project had to be put on hold due to other priorities but last year saw volunteers at the Hucknall Flight Test Museum offer to take on the restoration project and, importantly, place the aircraft under cover. An agreement has since been reached to transfer the Harrier, initially on a three-year loan, and the aircraft was transported to its new home on 30th January.
Chairman of THM, Elfan Ap Rees, said “We are delighted with this arrangement, which will see the continued conservation of this important development in VSTOL technology and give visitors the Hucknall Flight Museum, a real and unusual aircraft to view when they visit the centre”.
A HUFTM spokesman said “After many months of negotiation and numerous challenging administrative hurdles, we are now absolutely delighted to have acquired this totally unique exhibit under a loan agreement with THM and we now need to undertake a considerable amount of preparation work at Hucknall before we present it to visitors.
An official RRHT exhibit inauguration media event is planned at Hucknall for Summer 2020.