There’s an eerie dystopian atmosphere to this photograph by Luke Joyce, which perfectly captures an abandoned Sea Harrier FA2 aircraft in its post-Royal Navy purgatory. The derelict Fleet Air Arm jet hasn’t flown since 2002. For the past 12 years, its corroding hulk has occupied a windswept dispersal on a remote Cornish airfield.
The British Aerospace aircraft, serial number ZD581, represents the naval version of the iconic Harrier Jump Jet, a family of first and second generation strike fighters that operated from UK bases and aircraft carriers from the late 1960s until 2010. Harriers IIs remain in service with the US Marine Corps to this day, designated AV-8B.
ZD581 first flew in 1985 as a Sea Harrier FRS1. In that configuration it represented the type in 1989 at the Staverton airshow in Gloucestershire. The above video shows the aircraft in action.
In 1996 she was sent to British Aerospace’s facility at Dunsfold Aerodrome for conversion to FA2 standard, returning to flight in November 1997. Coded 124, Sea Harrier ZD581 remained on charge for a further five years. She was retired to MOD St Athan in Wales for storage in 2002.
In 2004, after two years languishing in a hangar and with many of her parts removed to keep more active Jump Jets in business, the jet was condemned to the isolated wartime dispersals of Predannack Airfield on Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula.
She’s now used as a crash rescue training aid with the Royal Navy Fire Fighting School, along with several other unfortunate machines, including SEPECAT Jaguar XX845. Unfortunately, since this photograph was taken, the Sea Harrier has attracted the unwanted attention of vandals, rather like the infamous A1 Lightning (the cockpit of which is now an exciting restoration project).