Interview with Commander ‘Sharkey’ Ward: Sea Harrier FRS Mk 1 and Air Combat

Interview with Commander ‘Sharkey’ Ward: Sea Harrier FRS Mk 1 and Air Combat

“Indubitably one in every of primarily essentially the most staggering details about Sea Harrier and the Falklands was that we went to battle lower than three years after receiving the predominant airplane in supplier and had been absolutely fascinating for combat. This in itself was an exceptional success by the engineers and aircrew of the Sea Harrier world and the correct toughen of our airplane supplier ships’ firms. By the way, we furthermore had the supreme flight security story of any jet airplane coming into UK safety power supplier.”

What had been your first impressions of the Sea Harrier?

“My first impressions of this exceptional airplane had been formed as soon as I was the MoD Naval Crew desk officer for the Vogue and Manufacturing of the Sea Harrier from 1976 to 1979. The important Contractors for the airplane had been a fastidiously knit physique of staff consisting of: John Fozard, British Aerospace; Greg Stewart, Ferranti; Andy Cameron, Smiths Industries; Dowty and others. All had been pulling strongly within the the identical route.

The modification from the already smartly-proven floor assault Harrier was a personal masterpiece. It included a raised cockpit, a exceptional albeit bodily small mono-pulse radar, the Blue Fox, a very legit inertial regular navigation association (NAVHARS) and a very consumer-edifying Head-Up Display weapons aiming association alongside aspect a hotline gunsight.

I was given big latitude and governance over all mission issues, whether or not related weapons and missiles, costings or instruments choice. The most efficient steerage I bought from my Director was that if I wanted to make use of further than £5 million over and above agreed mission costs, then I’ll even truthful peaceful very good it with him. However there was no need. It was the predominant UK fighter jet program in historic previous to be on impress and on time! (A a lot exclaim from collaborative Tornado and Storm programmes.)

Having talked about that, it was now not repeatedly easy working with the MoD Procurement Government desk officers primarily based in St Giles Courtroom docket. The Director Harrier and Commander Richard Burn AFC, Sea Harrier Enterprise officer, had been exceptional fellows and intensely supportive however just a few of their subordinates is liable to be very subtle and cussed. Indubitably one in every of my predominant considerations with shifting on from Harrier to Sea Harrier was the dreadfully unreliable radio, PTR 377. It consisted of 5 or further modules, every of which was full of an true bundle of wires: none of that had been recognized, coded or marked. Repairing the radio modules was due to this fact a nightmare for the RAE Farnborough boffins and there was a backlog of 3000 prepared for restore at a impress per module of a number of thousand kilos very good. I was adamant that this radio may maybe nicely truthful peaceful now not be fitted to my new Sea Harrier, the pilots of which might rely fastidiously for his or her security and mission success on right radio verbal substitute when flying alone over mountainous expanses of ocean by day and by evening time. It proved to be a prolonged battle with the Procurement Government however within the injury, I prevailed. The radio that I selected was the one in make use of with U.S. Navy fighter airplane. Then once more, although the instruct procurement impress of every radio was real US$8,000, Procurement Government bureaucrats managed to maintain the worth to the Provider as much as £15,000!

After I was appointed to uncover the Intensive Flying Trials Unit, I visited BAe Dunsfold with my household on the invitation of their Senior Check out Pilot, John Farley, to understanding the predominant airplane being fascinating for provide. It was an exciting crawl to. John was real consuming! He handled my lads like royalty after which climbed into the model new jet and proceeded to current us a personal flying show; alongside aspect his vital vertical purchase-off transitioning proper right into a advance vertical climb away. Irrespective of having already flown 30 hours within the floor assault Harrier, I was further than impressed, I was awestruck.

Flying the model new airplane within the Flight Trials Unit, 700A Squadron, proved to be extraordinarily rewarding. Our Blue Fox radar had now not but been fitted however there was grand to total sooner than it arrived in supplier. We had been blessed with terribly devoted and enthusiastic engineers and aircrew who, by their diligence, provided the correct foundation for eventual deployment to and victory within the Falklands air battle.

The important thing to this victory lay in our vogue of the airplane proper right into a exceptional inside-visible-differ air combat or dogfighting vehicle. We proved this within the early days with dominant performances in opposition to the USAF Aggressor Squadron F-5E’s and the Bitburg frontline Squadron F-15 Eagles. This preserve terror bells ringing across the fighter world. We had been on a roll that persevered with rising momentum.

Then once more and although fighter combat was the like of my existence, the standout early memory of our exiguous soar jet may maybe nicely truthful peaceful be a public household individuals affair, that’s to pronounce my touchdown at ‘Pebble Mill at One’ BBC studios within the centre of Birmingham. It was transmitted keep to the British public.

We had most efficient these days purchased our first airplane and I had carried out real a handful of flights in it. Neil Rankin, my Air boss and Ted Anson, my Admiral acquired in touch saying, “Sharkey, the Royal Air Pressure has been requested to land a Harrier at Pebble Mill at One studios within the centre of Birmingham. They’ve declined, saying that it is too harmful and harmful. Would you will need to current it a crawl?” I talked about that I may maybe nicely comprise a chat about it with John Farley after which give an decision. John’s advice was exceptional. He lined all the professionals and cons and security measures required and knowledgeable me it might probably maybe really truthful peaceful be no problem. And so it labored out. A bunch of Navy VIPs, households and friends and the press gathered on the roof of the studios as I landed the airplane safely within the little discipline by the constructing. I missed the champagne and little eats celebration on fable of I wanted to be able to buy off beneath keep broadcast on the discontinue of the programme. However I did resolve up a spacious kiss on the cheek from Elaine Tear, London’s Cockney vital individual.

What was your most memorable Sea Harrier mission…what took place?

OPERATION CORPORATE proved to be a comparatively fast however very intense battle each for our land forces, our warships, submarines and for the fixed and rotary wing airplane of the Like a flash Air Arm. There was no land-based principally air defence toughen. We had been remoted 8,000 miles from home within the turbulent South Atlantic seas with temperatures advance zero. The enviornment at big brazenly mentioned the probabilities of our success. Unanimously, the pundits declared that a bit of band of 20 Sea Harrier soar jets could not defend the task power from as much as 200 Argentine fighter and floor assault airplane. Definitely and as Rear-Admiral ‘Sandy’ Woodward, Commander Provider Battle Group talked about after our victory, “it was a very end identify”. How right he was.

My United States Marine Corps aviator friends comprise described it to me as a result of the ultimate of the aged wars. They’re probably right – two facets combating it out in total isolation from the remainder of the sector and with winner takes all. Inserting all of it in context, it was the boots on the bottom of our Amphibious Brigade led by Julian Thompson and Jeremy Moore that secured the onerous-fought victory. In aged safety power information, an invasion power must be three or 4 occasions the size of the established power conserving the contested territory. This was turned on its head for Operation Company. Our land forces numbered about 4,000 whereas the Argentine incumbents numbered 8,000. So on land and within the air we had been fastidiously outnumbered. However on the surface of the ocean and beneath the waves we had a trump card. That was our floor warships and submarines who had been there in power and lived as much as the supreme traditions and historic achievements of the Royal Navy. They provided essential medium and quick-differ air defence and traumatic antisubmarine operations in security of the Provider Battle Group and the Amphibious Process Group ably led by Commodore Michael Clapp.

It was a very educated physique of staff effort – however that is what Royal Navy Expeditionary Process Pressure operations comprise repeatedly been about.

Returning to the air battle, the restricted collection of fighter airplane and aircrew demanded 24/7 intense combat effort from the ship’s crews of each carriers, HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes. And for my pilots, this supposed almost correct heavy fatigue: now not real flying airborne missions however furthermore sitting within the cockpit at alert on deck step by step with out of doorways air temperatures of two°C and no heating within the airplane (versus occasional mugs of scorching chocolate provided by our inconceivable floor crew).

I belief that the above fashions the scene for the type through which our exiguous soar jets contributed to eventual victory. The air battle was gained by the blended efforts of our floor warships and our Sea Harrier combat air patrols. The collection of kills completed by each events in opposition to the sustained assaults of Mirage V, Skyhawk and Étendard was about equal. The significance of Sea Harrier was however twofold.

First, and in air-to-air engagements, our soar jet completed 25 kills with out dropping an airplane. However that’s now not the entire story.

Our recognition had preceded us and the Argentine fighters and floor assault airplane had been knowledgeable to keep away from contact with Sea Harriers in any respect costs – even when it supposed aborting assault missions. My Squadron, 801, performed all its combat air patrol missions at low stage or very low stage, severely in defence of the San Carlos beachhead. (800 Squadron from Hermes held their patrols at 20,000 ft above the amphibious touchdown power.) The low-stage 801 CAP stations up threat of the beachhead resulted in further than 450 Argentine airplane assault missions being aborted. I learnt this rapidly from the Defence Attaché of the Argentinian Embassy in London real after the battle.

Indubitably a kind of CAP Missions is a specific candidate for “my most memorable mission”.

Enable me to quote from my information, “Sea Harrier over the Falklands”, Chapter 23.

“Steve and I flew the subsequent mission as a pair. There was no commerce for us beneath the now very good blue skies however lets seek for that to the south of the Sound HMS Ardent had considered glorious ample circulation for the day. She was limping northwards and smoke was positively coming from further areas than her funnel. We had been to leer further of her on our third and last sortie of the day.

For this last `hop’ we acquired the preserve to the west of San Carlos over the land. We descended from the north east and sustain a low stage pace music patrol in an enormous shallow valley. As repeatedly, we flew in battle formation aspect by aspect and about 880 yards aside. After we turned on the discontinue of the pace music pattern, we repeatedly turned in path of one another in declare to make sure that no enemy fighter may maybe nicely talent our confederate’s 6 o’clock undetected. I had real flown by Steve within the middle of a activate the southerly discontinue of the pace music as soon as I seen two triangular shapes drawing end down the far aspect of the valley beneath the hills from the west. They’d been shifting mercurial and had been positively Mirages, probably Daggers. I levelled out of the flip and pointed rapidly at them, rising power to stout throttle as I did so.

`Two Mirages! Head on to me now, Steve. 1 mile.’ My disclose was so indignant and garbled that Steve couldn’t perceive a uncover.

`Passing between them now!’

I was lower than the chief and elevated than the Quantity Two as they flashed previous all facets of my cockpit. They’d been most efficient about 50 yards aside and at about 100 ft above the deck. As I handed them I pulled onerous to the true, barely nostril excessive, prepared for them peaceful to attempt to supply it by to their purpose by going left and resuming their music. I craned my neck over my right shoulder however they didn’t seem. In its place I may maybe nicely seek for Steve chasing proper all through the skyline in path of the west. My coronary heart all proper this second leapt. They will keep and battle! Will should comprise turned the opposite process.

They’d turned the opposite process however now to not battle! They’d been working for home and hadn’t considered Steve in any respect on fable of their flip positioned him squarely of their 6 o’clock. Steve’s first missile streaked from beneath the Sea Harrier’s wing. It curved over the tail of the Mirage leaving its attribute white smoke lunge and impacted the backbone of the jet on the abet of the cockpit. The pilot will should comprise considered it approaching fable of he had already jettisoned the conceal sooner than the missile arrived; when it did, he ejected. The abet half of the delta winged fighter bomber disappeared in a mountainous gout of flame sooner than the jet exploded.

I checked Steve’s tail was very good however he was far too busy to ponder of checking my comprise 6 o’clock. In each different case he would comprise considered the third Mirage closing mercurial on my tail.

Steve was concentrating on monitoring the 2nd jet in his sights and he launched his 2nd Sidewinder. The missile had a prolonged dawdle after its purpose which was accelerating onerous in stout burner in path of the sanctuary of the west. At missile burn out the Mirage began to tug up for some clouds. The lethal dot of white persevered to music the fighter bomber and since the jet entered cloud, I clearly noticed the missile proximity fuse beneath the wing. It was an exceptional spectacle.

Adrenaline working excessive, I glanced spherical to confirm the sky about me. Flashing beneath me and real to my right was the consuming inexperienced and brown masks of the third Dagger. I broke right and down in path of the airplane’s tail, obtained the jet exhaust with my Sidewinder and launched the missile.


My missile chases the fleeing Dagger.

It reached its purpose in very fast time and the Dagger disappeared in a ball of flame. Out of the flame ball exploded the damaged objects of the jet, just a few of which cartwheeled alongside the bottom sooner than coming to leisure, not recognisable as substances of an airplane. The air combat engagement had lasted for roughly a minute and although all of it took place extraordinarily mercurial, in my thoughts it registered as spectacular sluggish circulation.

Later I was to notice that the third Mirage Dagger had entered the battle from the north and stumbled on me in his sights. As he turned in path of the west and residential he had been firing his weapons at me within the flip however had missed. It was the closest shave that I was to journey.


Steve & Sharkey’s Dagger kills.

We had been euphorically indignant as we stumbled on one another visually and joined up as a pair to proceed our Attempt in opposition to Air Patrol duties. We had moved just a few miles west all around the fast engagement and now steadied on east for some seconds to assemble the true patrol house. As I was taking a leer in path of San Carlos, about 10 miles far-off on the abet of the hills, I spotted three seagulls within the daylight hours forward. Had been they seagulls?

I generally known as Glowing, `Conclude you are going to comprise acquired any friendlies end to you?’


HMS Glowing.

`Wait!’ It was a sharper than celebrated reply.

A 2nd or two later, Glowing was abet on the air. `Sorry, we’ve real been strafed by a Mirage! Hit within the Ops Room! Man reverse me is grief and I ponder I’m hit within the arm. No, no friendlies end to us.’ The cool-headed Route Officer was Laon Hulme who was later embellished for his exceptional effectivity beneath hearth. (There’ll should had been a fourth Mirage! The one who acquired away!)

Elephantine power once more. `Steve, these aren’t seagulls forward, they’re Sky Hawks!’ What had gave the impression of white birds had been really assault airplane that had paused to take a purpose. As I spoke, the three `seagulls’ stopped orbiting, headed in path of the south and descended on the abet of the road of hills. And from my morning flight I knew the place that they had been going.

`They’re going for Ardent!’ I headed flat out to the south east, passing over the settlement of Port Howard at over 600 knots and 100 ft.

In fast time I cleared the road of hills to my left and was all proper this second over the water of the Sound. Forward and to the left had been the Sky Hawks. To the true was the stricken Ardent, billowing smoke like a beacon as she tried to supply her resolution to San Carlos. I wasn’t going to find out on up there in time however I knew that Pink Piece from Hermes may maybe nicely truthful peaceful be on CAP on the opposite aspect of the water.

`Pink Piece! Three Sky Hawks, north to south in path of Ardent! I’m out of differ to the west!’

Pink Piece acquired the message and appeared as if by magic, hurtling down from high-stage above the opposite monetary establishment of the Sound. I noticed the smoke of a Sidewinder and the trailing A Four exploded. The middle airplane then blew up (a weapons kill, so I heard later) and the third jet delivered its bombs into Ardent sooner than seeming to clip the mast with its fuselage.


The heroic Ardent.

I appeared round to leer the place my Quantity Two had acquired to.

`Steve, the place are you?’ He’ll should had been in battle formation on the beam. No reply. My coronary heart missed a number of beats. There was most efficient one decision, he’ll should comprise gone down!

I generally known as Glowing. `Suppose I’ve misplaced my Quantity Two to floor hearth. Retracing my music abet to the CAP house to supply a visual search.’ I didn’t really feel right. My seen search resulted in nothing. However I did hear the describe account sound of a pilot’s SARBE rescue beacon. Per probability that was Steve? `Glowing, I’ll’t detect my Quantity Two however comprise picked up a SARBE sign. Can be him or indubitably one of many essential Mirage pilots. Are you able to ship a helicopter to comprise a leer, please? I’m very wanting gas and should improve to Mom rapidly.’

I felt infinitely heart-broken as I climbed to excessive stage. Shedding Steve was a real shock to my association. At 80 miles to hurry, I generally known as the ship.

`Be told I am very wanting gas. I think about my Quantity Two has been misplaced over West Falkland. Taking off cruise descent.’

`Roger, Chief. Replica you might be wanting gas. Your Quantity Two is able to land on. He’s been hit however he’s OK. Over.’

`Roger, Mom. That is right knowledge. Out’.

Invincible is liable to be clearly considered at 60 miles. She was arrowing her process all through the water in path of me like a speedboat, leaving a mountainous foaming wake. Excellent for JJ! He doesn’t want to lose a Sea Jet real for just a few kilos of gas. My spirits had all proper this second soared and it felt mountainous to be alive.”

Particular thanks To Rowland White

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