BAE Harrier (modern variants include AV-8B; GR7; GR9)
Above: A Harrier Jump Jet takes off (or lands) vertically. Picture from http://www.richard-seaman.com
The Harrier Jump Jet is a truly remarkable aircraft, famous for being the first operational fighter jet which can take off and land vertically. We say it has V/STOL (for Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing) capabilities. It is not a helicopter, but a plane with fixed wings and no rotors. So how does it do it? The answer is: thrust vectoring, or TVC (Thrust Vector Control). This means that the Harrier can direct the nozzles at the rear of its jet engines, pointing the thrust coming out in different directions. If the Harrier points the nozzles at the ground, the thrust pushes it upwards, if it points the nozzles straight behind, it will go forwards… etc. This means that the Harrier is very agile. Most jets have static nozzles- the nozzles do not move, so the Harrier really is very unusual. But unfortunately, sometimes Harriers go wrong and they are tremendously difficult to fly. This is where the F-35 comes in.
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (variants include F-35A for USAF; F-35B for US Marines, RAF and Royal Navy; F-35C for US Navy).
Above: A Marines F-35B takes off (or lands) vertically. Notice the nozzle at the rear is pointing downwards, pushing the aircraft upwards, either to allow it to take off or to slow down landing. Picture from http://www.aviapedia.com
The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is built in conjunction by Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems, Pratt and Whitney and Rolls Royce. There had been a competition between Lockheed Martin and Boeing (with the Boeing X-32) for the contract to build a Joint Strike Fighter. Lockheed Martin won.
There are three types of F-35: F-35A (Airforce), F-35B (Marines) and F-35C (Navy). The F-35B is the only one that can take off and land vertically. So it, like the Harrier, has VTOL capabilities. The others are equipped with other special features which are useful for their roles (such as the F-35C has bigger landing gear for carrier landings). The F-35B is equipped with a lift fan which is engaged during vertical take-offs and landings.
In many ways the F-35B is very similar to the Harrier. It can take off and land vertically using thrust vectoring. But it is much newer, much more advanced, much safer and much faster. It is also more effective in more types of missions. It is even stealthy, not quite as stealthy as the F-22, but more so than the Eurofighter and Rafale (see Best Fighters page). The only problem with the F-35 is cost. It is the most expensive military aircraft project ever undertaken. The F-35 should replace a good number of British Harriers.
The RAF refers to the F-35 as the Joint Combat Aircraft.
Post dedicated to Greg
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