Sea Harrier FA.2 Arrives at Pima Air & Space Museum

Sea Harrier FA2 ZH810 after arriving in the restoration hangar at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona. The aircraft will be reassembled and repainted in the coming days to join the museum's fleet of Harrier types on display. (photo via Pima Air & Space Museum)

The Pima Air & Space Museum near Tucson, Arizona has just taken delivery of British Aerospace Sea Harrier FA2 ZH810. The airframe arrived at the museum’s main workshop for refurbishment yesterday.

ZH810 flew in Britain’s Fleet Air Arm, and was almost the last of the breed off the British Aerospace assembly line at Dunsfold; the final example being ZH813, which the Royal Navy accepted in January, 1999. ZH810 flew with the Fleet Air Arm’s Sea Harrier training unit, 899 Squadron, based at RNAS Yeovilton, but had only a brief military career. Dramatic budget cuts to the British Armed Forces resulted in the premature retirement of the Royal Navy’s entire Sea Harrier fleet in 2006. The British Ministry of Defense sold on the bulk of the surviving airframes to Everett Aero, based now at former RAF Station Bentwaters near Ipswich in Suffolk, England. Here the airframes resided inside the company’s hangars, interestingly the same Hardened Air Shelters last occupied by A-10s of the U.S. Air Force’s 81st Tactical Fighter Wing up until the base’s closure in 1993. Being inside these hangars kept the aircraft out of the wet British climate, and has preserved the aircraft in good condition. In the ensuing years, Everett has sold on most of their Sea Harriers to museums and private individuals, with the most famous of these being Art Nall’s beautiful FA2 XZ439, the world’s only privately owned and operated Sea Harrier. The legendary former US Marine Corps Harrier pilot has displayed XZ439 at air shows in the U.S.A. for the past decade, where she continues to thrill audiences to this day.

ZH810 now sits alongside former RAF Harrier GR.5 ZD353 in Pima’s workshop. ZD353 arrived at Pima in March, 2017, and the restoration team has finally had the chance to re-assemble her. They began stripping the GR.5’s weatherworn exterior in recent days in preparation for repainting her. Once complete, the two jump-jets will join the museum’s four other Harrier airframes.

Pima now has the following Harrier variants on hand…

  • Hawker Siddeley XV-6A Kestrel 64-18264
  • Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.3 XV804
  • McDonnell Douglas AV-8C Harrier Bu.159241
  • McDonnell Douglas TAV-8A Harrier Bu.159382
  • British Aerospace Harrier GR.5 ZD353
  • British Aerospace Sea Harrier FA.2 ZH810

Outside of missing an AV-8B and perhaps a Hawker Siddeley P.1127, these airframes make up practically the entire lineage of significant Harrier variants, making Pima the only place on earth where it is possible to see such a lineup. It seems only a matter of time before Pima acquires an AV-8B as the Marine Corps’ active fleet winds down upon the introduction of the F-35B to full operational status. A P.1127 may be more difficult to come by though. Regardless, bravo to Pima for such foresight in assembling such an impressive lineup of important aviation technology and heritage!

For an in-depth look at Art Nalls and his magnificent Sea Harrier, please be sure to check out Warbird Digest Issue #79 which features a marvelous piece by Stephen Chapis, complete with dramatic and exclusive air-to-air photos of XZ439.

Art Nalls accomplished what many deemed impossible: the civilian operation of a Sea Harrier. Warbird Digest looks back at the challenges of returning this amazing aircraft to the air . Click on this image to buy this issue of Warbird Digest.