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After 33 years in service, Sea Harriers fly into history

A Sea Harrier at Naval Air Station INS Hansa in Goa.  

Two Sea Harrier fighters flew over Naval Air Station INS Hansa in Goa on Wednesday morning — for the last time — accompanied by two Mig-29K jets and as they landed were accorded a traditional “washing down”, with fire hoses spraying water in an arc over them, marking the end of an era of vertical take-off jets in Indian aviation.

Smooth transition

The composite air display by both fighters symbolised a smooth transition from the old (Sea Harrier) to the new (Mig-29K) for the Indian Naval Air Squadron (INAS 300) or White Tigers. The function was attended by Admiral R.K. Dhowan, Chief of the Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Sunil Lanba, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief Western Naval Command, and other serving and retired officers and men of the Indian Navy and all personnel who have served in the INAS 300.

“We have great pride in inducting supersonic multi-role MiG-29K aircraft with cutting edge technology into the 300 squadron,” Chief Admiral Dhowan said on the sidelines of the event.

The Harriers heralded the beginning of the Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) capability in the Navy i.e. their ability to take off and vertically and hover mid-air like a helicopter.

“The eight single-seat fighters and three twin-seat trainers in service will possibly be going to various Naval air stations as trophies. Final plans are being worked out at Naval Headquarters,” a senior officer told The Hindu.

Three Harriers, built by BAE Systems of the UK, flew into Goa for the first time on 16 December 1983 when they were welcomed by a solitary Seahawk fighter, which was being retired, flown by Cdr U.P. Bapat. They flew via Malta, Luxor and Dubai, led by Lt Cdr Arun Prakash, and landed at Dabolim, Goa on December 16, 1983. Lt Cdr Prakash later went on to become the Chief of Naval Staff between 2004 and 2006. Navy officials said that this was followed by the first deck landing on the carrier, INS Vikrant, on December 20, 1983. After Vikrant, the Harriers operated from INS Viraat which is scheduled to be retired by year end.

1987 incident

Vice Admiral Sunil Damle, former Southern Naval Commander and a Harrier pilot, recalled an incident of July 1987 when Sea Harriers landed on INS Viraat for the first time. “Then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was scheduled to visit the carrier and witness air operations and four of us got ready to practise off the Mumbai coast. It was monsoon season and was raining heavily,” he said.

“Despite bad weather we were launched but we quickly realised that landing was difficult. So we jettisoned our fuel and came for landing,” he recollected. Though they could barely see the ship, the three aircraft managed to land and the fourth piloted by Cdr Sanjay Gupta went too high and only then saw the ship in the gloomy weather but then came down and managed to land. “This proved its all-weather capability,” Vice Admiral Damle noted and added that it was a pilot’s aircraft.

The latest carrier INS Vikramaditya has a ski-jump and uses the Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR), which needs a runway and arrestors wires to launch and recover aircraft which have a tail hook.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 1:13:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/after-33-years-in-service-sea-harriers-fly-into-history/article8586438.ece

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