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Harrier Pilots for a Day

GlassPilotFor Fun, Pilot Reports

One benefit of being in the general aviation aircraft sales business is it seems I have the job every one wants. Last fall I had the chance to bring my readers the experience of flying the KC135 tanker because I met the pilot and he wanted to learn more about what I do so he invited me along! It was an awesome experience that resulted in amazing pictures from the cockpit and refueling station.

Well folks, today we have another thrilling experience for you…a flight in a Marine Corp Harrier! It all started at Sun n Fun when a young Marine pilot offered a tour… I pulled out my calendar and booked it right then!

On Good Friday I took my two sons, Thomas age 12 and Ben age 16, and we made our way to the Cherry Point main gate at 0930 to meet our favorite new pilot friend. I am fairly confident that I was the most excited of our little troop. With our friends clearance we proceeded through the main Harrier flight line where, due to a retirement ceremony, they had halted training for an hour so we got to see dozens of Harriers lined up very businesslike on the ramp.

Inside the maintenance hangar we got to inspect up close the whole plane including the Mechanisms that control the hover, Gatling gun and other weapons systems. For a machine designed in the 1960′s I have to say I was amazed and impressed with the mechanical control system and how it all works.

The cockpit is made up of two video screens with all comms in the middle and a heads up video display that provides all the needed flight instruments and weapon systems. The HeadsUp display was something I was really looking forward to trying.

After watching flight ops including slow approaches and amazing hovers we headed to the Harrier simulator. This was no desktop training aid. The building was the size of a gymnasium and under tight security. I would have given anything to have been able to carry in my video camera to show you folks how cool this experience was closeup but that was not allowed.

The sim is controlled by an operator that sits behind a twelve foot long console with double decker screen arrays filling the whole space. The “aircraft” is around the corner encased in a two story tall metal room that surrounds the cockpit with 360 degree projection. The cockpit is the real thing.

Ben took the controls first and with a short briefing he performed his first performance take off in the Harrier. Considering he had just soloed the J3 Cub earlier in the week I felt certain that would qualify as the fastest “transition” on record!

I fully expected that he would be all over the sky and would not be able to hover…wow, was I surprised. He conducted a perfect flight including several take offs, landings and hover procedures. I was quite impressed. I was even more impressed when my 12 year old did the same albeit not as smooth.

When Dad finally got his turn I was prepared having watched and listened intently. I truly thought the bird would be much more difficult to fly. The transition from hover to flight in take off was a blast and very smooth. The transition from flight to hover on approach was much trickier but something I could have had fun doing for hours. The realization of the 360 degree sim was amazing.

Of course I had to try and show off and earned the honor of the only one to crash the sim. Just remember you can’t spin real fast in a hover or a wing drops and it gets ugly fast!

I was fully impressed with the base, everyone we met there and they way they kept the facilities. My son who is considering joining up went away even more excited dreaming of being a Harrier pilot.

Many thanks to our new friends at Cherry Point Marine Air Station!

Next… I’m gunning to get a visit to an aircraft carrier!

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