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Another one from my email contacts, don't recall having seen it here before. Apologies in advance for the varying font, I wasn't able to correct it. Some of the photos are attached at the end.


Meet the man who loved Harrier jump jets so much he bought his own and lovingly restored it to working orderArt Nalls has bought the ultimate boys’ toy: he’s the only private owner of a Royal Navy Sea Harrier, which he rebuilt with a little help from a 400,000-page manual


The paint may be peeling in places and it has clearly seen better days, but to its proud owner, the gunmetal-grey Sea Harrier remains a thing of beauty.The British-built jet, once a potent symbol of this country’s technological prowess, now startles the neighbours and the local Cessna pilots whenever it emerges from its hangar at the tiny St Mary’s County Regional Airport in Maryland, some 50 miles south-east of Washington, DC.‘When people see it in flight it inspires awe,’ booms Art Nalls, the only person in the world to privately own a working Harrier jump jet. ‘People can’t believe ten tons of aluminium can float motionless on a sea of noise. I get a kick out of watching the crowds at air shows. 'As soon as I gun the engine, people put down their hot dogs and look upwards with their mouths wide open, like a bunch of baby birds waiting to be fed.'You don’t get the same kick looking at a jet sitting on the ground in a museum. She’s like having a mistress – only more fun and way more expensive.’


It’s 30 years since the Harrier’s finest hour, when it helped us win the Falklands War. The aircraft entered service in 1969, but it was in the South Atlantic in 1982 that it came into its own. The Argentines nicknamed it La Muerte Negra – the Black Death. During the conflict Harriers shot down at least 20 Argentine planes without a single loss in aerial combat (ten were lost to ground fire, accidents or mechanical failure). With its superior manoeuvrability and armaments – including the latest AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles and Blue Fox radar – the British jet outclassed the enemy Mirage III and Dagger aircraft, even though the Argentine planes were considerably faster.It went on to see action in both the Gulf War and the Iraq War, as well as in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan. But since then its star has faded. The UK Government caused widespread outrage in October 2010 when it announced it was axing our remaining Harriers as part of the Strategic Defence Review. ‘Betrayal – that is the only word to describe our emotions,’ remarked one pilot at the time. The entire fleet of 74 aircraft (minus two allocated to museums) has since been bought by the U.S. – whose Marines still fly the Harrier regularly in Afghanistan – in a deal worth around £115 million.


Admiral Lord West, who was head of the Navy from 2002 to 2006, spearheaded an unsuccessful campaign begging the Prime Minister to reconsider his ‘bonkers’ decision to scrap the iconic aircraft. In an open letter to David Cameron, he wrote that the PM was a ‘victim of bad and biased briefing’.


What most angered the Harrier pilots was the belief that their aircraft was better suited to combat operations in Afghanistan than the Tornado, which is almost as old yet has survived the defence cuts relatively unscathed. Following the Government’s announcement, one senior Harrier pilot said, ‘We have been under relentless pressure from an Air Force system that simply wanted us to fail. 'There is absolutely no doubt that the RAF has been working against us from the start of the whole process. This is all about service politics rather than making decisions based on the suitability of the aircraft for this particular combat environment. 'The Harrier was doing a brilliant job in Afghanistan and then suddenly it was withdrawn so that the RAF could deploy their Tornados, simply so that the RAF could justify their existence… You need three Tornados to do the same work as one Harrier in Afghanistan. Where’s the sense in that?’


It was an ignoble end for an aircraft that was once the pride of Britain’s armed forces, and one which has left Nalls, a retired U.S. Marine colonel, as the self-described ‘defender’ of the Harrier’s legacy. The irony isn’t lost on the patriotic American.‘It’s a travesty that the UK Government scrapped the Harrier fleet. I will keep my Harrier airworthy for as long as I’m physically capable of flying her.’


Nalls, who lives in Virginia, won’t divulge exactly what he paid for his ‘bird’, but says reports of £2.5 million ‘are not wide of the mark’. Staggeringly, it costs £150 a minute to fly.‘It’s the ultimate boys’ toy,’ says Nalls, who made his fortune in property development after retiring from the Marines due to an ear injury.‘What makes the Harrier unique is its ability to take off vertically, hover on a dime, fly backwards and pirouette like a dancer in the air. That made it deadly in combat and thrilling to watch. 'When the British do it right, they do it best. The Harrier is the greatest flying machine ever. Technology-wise, it pushed back the boundaries of science. I dreamed of owning my own Harrier. When it came on the market I snapped it up.’


Nalls’s love affair with the plane began during his days as a Marine pilot.‘I flew 65 different types of aircraft. I was less than enthused when I was chosen to fly the AV-8A Harrier. It had a horrible reputation as a difficult and busy aircraft.'I was apprehensive, but that all changed when I took one up for the first time. I strapped in and everything after that was a blur. The Harrier accelerated forward like a rifle shot, and by the time I’d reached the end of the runway I was going 450 knots. I was amazed at what this plane could do. I was hooked!’He went on to work as a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, where one of his jobs was to take Harriers to 45,000ft and shut down the engine. ‘I have more than six hours of flight time in single-engine jets without the engine running,’ he grins. ‘At 45,000ft I’d shut everything down, glide down to 25,000ft and then restart. Thankfully for me the Harriers always restarted.’


After retiring in 1989 due to an injury sustained when he broke up a bar-room brawl, Nalls began investing in property and built a multimillion-pound empire.He started buying planes – a Russian Yak-3 fighter and a Czech L-39 Albatros. Then in 2006 he learned that the RAF was selling an FA2 Sea Harrier (or SHAR) via an aviation broker near Ipswich, Everett Aero.


‘The plane was due to be retired. She never flew in combat; she was used to train pilots. I think the broker expected her to end up in a museum. Owning a Sea Harrier was one of my life’s dreams. 'When I heard about her being for sale through a trade publication, I immediately flew to England and went to RAF Bentwaters airbase in Suffolk. When I saw her sitting there in the hangar, it was love at first sight. I got straight on the phone to my bank and arranged payment the next day.’


Once he’d obtained clearance from the authorities, the Harrier was transported to Maryland by sea.‘I had to go through a mountain of red tape to get her over to the U.S, and she arrived in pieces. 'When I asked the RAF for manuals to help me rebuild her, they ran security checks. I guess they didn’t want a Harrier falling into the hands of some tinpot dictator. Then they finally sent me the manuals; they ran to 400,000 pages – no kidding.’Then began the arduous process of making the plane airworthy again. ‘The weapons systems had been removed and we replaced some of the heavy radio equipment and wiring. It was a labour of love. I had a team of volunteers and we worked around the clock for two years before I took her up in the air for the first time. 'Every time I needed a part I either had to find someone to make it for me or I had to scour the internet. There were many times I’d lie awake in bed at night wondering if I’d bought myself an expensive toy that would never leave the hangar.’


The lowest point came after the plane had been reassembled, at the end of its second flight. ‘The nose landing gear dropped but unknown to me it failed to lock. The nose was crushed on landing. That set us back months.’


But Nalls says the effort was worth it. ‘The first time I took her up was magical. There is something poetic about the quality of the engineering. This plane can roll, climb, dive and turn, but what’s staggering is how you can go from travelling through the air at 600mph to hovering at a standstill in a matter of seconds. 'Once you’ve flown one it’s like a drug. You’re hooked.’It’s an expensive habit, though. Nalls has spent more than £1 million getting the plane back in the air – and its Rolls-Royce engine guzzles one gallon of fuel every six seconds. ‘I use up 50 gallons of fuel just getting from the hangar to the runway. At the beginning I was fuelling up so often the local aviation authorities got on to me wanting to know why I required so much jet fuel. When I told them it was for my Harrier, there was silence at the end of the phone.


‘I’ve had her long enough now that word has got around. The world of air shows and those of us who own private jets is pretty small, and once I got the SHAR the news spread like wildfire.'It’s the ultimate in bragging rights. Other pilots come up to me constantly wanting to know about her.’The jet’s controls include a conventional centre stick and left-hand throttle, but with the addition of a lever for controlling the four vectoring nozzles – pointed backwards for horizontal flight and downwards for vertical take-offs and landings. Otherwise, the cockpit is unremarkable.‘There are no mod cons in the aircraft – no cup-holders in the SHAR! This is a performance plane,’ says Nalls proudly.‘I’m the only guy in the world with my own Harrier, and I intend to enjoy it just as long as I can. I would love to bring her back to the UK in 2012 to help celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War. 'The Smithsonian has expressed interest in buying it, but I believe this is a plane which deserves to keep flying – even if the British Government doesn’t.





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