Jump Jets in the Jungle

One of the first expeditionary deployments for the RAF’s early Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1As was in 1975 when the Crown colony of Belize– the last continental possession of the United Kingdom in the Americas– was threatened by events in neighboring Guatemala. In response, a six-pack of Harriers from No. 1 Squadron was sent to Belize international airport at Ladyville in November 1975, from where they operated for six months before returning to Europe.

A Hawker Siddeley Harrier GR.1A of No. 1 Sqn in the very muddy conditions at Ladyville in November 1975. This real-world deployment was only six years after No. 1 became the world’s first operator of a V/STOL combat aircraft. (RAF photo).

The half-dozen Harriers returned in July 1977, escorted from the UK with the support of ten Victor tankers, along with 1st Bn, Queen’s Regiment for ground support.

This, from the AP archive, shows Harrier hides at the time.

The Harriers would remain there for the next 16 years until 1993, first as HarDetBelize and then after 1980 as No. 1417 (Tactical Ground Attack) Flight RAF, upgrading to GR3s and GR5s over time. This occurred even as Belize gained its independence in 1981 and the Harrier had its baptism of fire the next year in the Falklands– also in the Americas. 

Six aircraft strong, the Belize Harriers would alternate locations between 10 prepared and dispersed camouflaged hides, numbered Alfa through Juliet in the NATO phonetic alphabet.

Royal Air Force Harrier GR3 of No. 1417 Flight RAF at Golf hide revetment, RAF Belize 1990

Two crashed while deployed to Belize while one, GR.3 No ZD669, endures there on display at Ladyville.

Speaking of jump jets on display, I was ecstatic to find possibly the best collection of Harriers in the world last week at Pima, where I saw just about the whole history of the type lined up.

They have an early Navy Hawker Siddeley XV-6A Kestrel (64-18264), USMC TAV-8A (Bu. No. 159382), a VMA-513 (USS Tarawa) marked USMC AV-8C (Bu. No. 159241), a Royal Navy FAA 899 Squadron-marked Sea Harrier FA.2 (ZH810), an RAF 233 Operational Conversion Unit-marked GR.5 (ZD353), and an RAF No. 4 Squadron-marked GR.3 (XV804).

With less than 900 of all types produced, a single Harrier in any condition is a rare bird indeed, much less a whole line of them!

All they are missing is a rare P.1127 prototype and an AV-8B, which may be changed once the Marines retire the type.

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