Following their successful amphibious invasion of the Falkland Islands in April 1982, if the Argentinean government were hoping that the 8,000 mile distance between them and the British mainland would present them with an uncontested territorial victory, they had seriously underestimated the situation. Just one day after their troops had secured Port Stanley, the British Government announced they would be sending a powerful naval Task Force to re-take the Islands, built around the two aircraft carriers HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible, with their compliment of highly capable Sea Harrier FRS.1 jets. The relatively small size of the Sea Harrier enabled the Fleet Air Arm to retain a fixed-wing fleet defender aircraft capability and armed with the latest AIM-9L Sidewinder air to air missile, the Sea Harrier was an exceptional aeroplane, but one which would be tested to the full if a diplomatic resolution to the Falklands situation could not be negotiated as the Task Force steamed south. With just 20 Sea Harrier FRS.1 aircraft onboard the two carriers which left Portsmouth on 5th April, their pilots knew they would be facing overwhelming odds if called into combat, however, they were well trained and extremely confident in both their own abilities and the fighting qualities of their unique aircraft.
As the powerful British naval Task Force left Portsmouth harbour bound for the South Atlantic on 5th April 1982, it only had a modest force of 20 Sea Harrier FRS.1 jets aboard the two aircraft carriers Hermes and Invincible, which at that time were still wearing their respective FAA Squadron markings. In preparation for the coming air battles, all aircraft would be made ‘low visibility’ by having their white areas and all squadron markings overpainted during the voyage, using brushes on HMS Hermes and spraying equipment on HMS Invincible.
These aircraft would later be joined by a further eight Sea Harriers, which were initially being hastily prepared, having been either taken from storage or re-assigned from other duties, meeting up with the Task Force later at Ascension Island. Making its first flight on 15th December 1979, Sea Harrier FRS.1 XZ457 arrived aboard HMS Hermes for South Atlantic deployment on 2nd April 1982 and would soon lose her No.899 NAS identity, becoming ‘Black 14’ of the HMS Hermes Air Group. Once the Task Force had arrived in the South Atlantic, she would be used to deliver three delayed action 1,000lb bombs on the airfield at Goose Green, just hours after the RAF had bombed Port Stanley Airfield after mounting the first of their ‘Black Buck’ Vulcan raids.On the 21st May, when piloted by Lt. Clive Morrell, this Sea Harrier destroyed an Argentinean A4 Skyhawk with a Sidewinder missile and damaged a second using cannon fire from its ADEN gun pods. Three days later, Lt. Cdr. Andy Auld used XZ457 to destroy two Argentinean Israeli built IAI Daggers, again using the effective AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles it was equipped with. By the end of hostilities on 14th June 1982, Sea Harrier XZ457 had flown an impressive 66 operational sorties, dropped three 1000lb bombs, fired 680 rounds of 30mm cannon ammunition and fired three AIM-9L Sidewinder missiles. As the top scoring Sea Harrier aboard HMS Hermes, she returned to Portsmouth sporting victory profile stencils below her cockpit, on the port side of the fuselage - two IAI Daggers above an A4 Skyhawk. Sea Harriers from HMS Hermes flew 1,126 sorties during the Falklands Conflict and had an impressive 16 aerial victories to their name - Lt. Cdr. Andy Auld flew 62 combat missions and would have two of those victories credited to him.Later upgraded to FA2 standard, this historic aircraft is now one of the prized aviation possessions in the care of the Boscombe Down Aviation Museum, where she is now on displa
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