The McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II was a joint project between the US and UK to develop a new generation of Harrier. The UK initially left the project in 1975 only to re-join it after the aircrafts first flight in 1981. The key differences between the original Harrier and the Harrier II were a more powerful engine, a larger composite wing with additional hard points, a better structure and an elevated cockpit. The Harrier II entered service with the RAF as the Harrier GR.5 which was later upgraded into the GR.7 and GR.9 variants before they were eventually retired in 2010. In the US the AV-8B went through a number of upgrades eventually creating two variants - the AV-8B(NA) standing for night attack and the AV-8B+ Harrier II Plus which featured an APG-65 muti-mode radar giving the aircraft the ability to carry the Aim-120 Amraam beyond visual range air to air missile.
Following a decision to acquire the AV-8B over the Sea Harrier, the Italian Navy ordered a fleet of 16 AV-8B and two TAV-8B trainers in 1989. Other than a pair of two-seat TAV-8Bs and the first three AV-8Bs produced, the remainder of the Italian order was built from kits by Alenia Aeronatica. The entire fleet is based at Grottaglie and operated by the Gruppo Aerei Imbarcati (Carrier Air Group) - known as the GRUPAER. Italian Harriers have seen extensive combat service over Africa, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Libya flying from the light carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi and later the Cavour. The Italian Navy have ordered a total of 15 F-35B Lightning IIs to replace their Harriers.
The last appearance at an Air Tattoo by an Italian Navy Harrier was in 2005. We are very pleased to announce that the GRUPAER will be sending one of their Harriers for static display at RIAT 2023 where it will appear alongside the already announced Spanish Navy example.
Photo Credit: Andrew Evans
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