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.
The Spanish Navy were the first international customer for the AV-8B, ordering 12 aircraft in 1983 to replace their aging original Harriers known as the AV-8S Matador, calling the replacement the EAV-8B Matador II. In 1993, Spain ordered eight AV-8B+ Harriers to be known as the EAV-8B+ in service and this was followed by a decision in 2000 to upgrade the rest of the EAV-8B fleet to EAV-8B+ standard. Today the entire Spanish Harrier fleet is operated by 9 Escuadrilla who are based at Rota and operate from the Juan Carlos 1 amphibious assault ship.
9 Escuadrilla last appeared at the Air Tattoo in 2019 where they flew a pairs display with their Matadors, which won them the RIAT CEO Award. The Squadron will once again be bringing their Matadors to RIAT 2023 however this year we will see a solo flying display and a second example on static display.
Photo Credit: Rich Cooper
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