Harrier and F-35

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


23 Responses

  1. Say goodbye to manned aircraft.

    I’m sad to say the F-35 will be the last generation of intelligently manned aircraft, both civil and military. There is no point to them. The F-35 doesn’t work (how many times have you seen it hovering?) and even if if it did, why bother to hover? We have helicopters for that.

    We might keep pilots for a bit in airliners because we’d be afraid to fly in totally automated aluminium tubes but it’s perfectly feasible.

    I’m sorry to see pilots go but it’s probably for the best. Automation will provide much safer air travel (no more fear of flying into buildings) and air power will be a thing of the past. Destroying a country will be a matter of manipulating wealth, not military might.

    So goodbye to the sleekest, most beautiful and clever products of mankind. It was short, barely 100 years, but wonderful and I’m glad I lived through the best of it.

    • Derek, you really are missing the point of the VSTOL F35. Remember the Falklands conflict? Try reading Sea Harrier Over the Falklands by Sharkey Ward. This book elegantly describes the advantages of a VSTOL fighter. With the recent demise of the Harrier Force in the UK the RAF has lost one of its most flexible and potent aircraft. Look at the trouble in Libya. The UK has no longer got the capabilty of an operational aircraft carrier with fast jets to be on station to provide a fast response to trouble on the ground. While the helicopters go about there work, who is looking after them? Unfortunately it looks like the F35B will never enter service as the RAF has now opted for the F35C conventional take off and landing variant for the new carriers. BIG mistake.
      Also, do you really think air power will be a thing of the past? Look at the trouble going on in the World! There will be a need for military aircraft for many years to come and that includes manned aircraft. Countries are still investing heavily in this technology. Unmanned aircraft are comming along in leaps and bounds especially for surveillance tasks but I think that in the fast jet world there will be a pilot up front for a while yet.

  2. You have raised some interesting points in that comment and I think that on the whole you are probably right.

    We are now seeing increased use of UAV’s for military operations: they are currently being used controversially in Afghanistan. Maybe you are right that one day we will see aircraft flying without even the need of somebody controlling it remotely. But I think that we still have a couple of decades before these start being put to use. I can’t see governments around the world buying an aircraft such as the F-35 unless they are sure it will still be useful for years to come.
    Personally, the idea of trusting a robot with weapons worries me.

    Judging by the way wars today are fought, I think there is a possibility that air power may become obsolete. It seems that modern warfare is fought with troops on the ground against insurgents, as seen in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    However, who knows what will happen in the future!

  3. To give a bit of background to my previous post, I’ve been interested in aircraft since my childhood and worked at Brtish Aerospace for 14 years from 1971 as a software programmer in the Flight Test department on the Jaguar, Tornado and EAP (Experimental Aircraft Programme), the forerunner to the Eurofighter Typhoon. I also hold a private pilot’s license.

    From this you will no doubt guess that I love aircraft but one has to be realistic about the future. The cost of developing manned aircraft for either the tactical or strategic roles is beyond the reach of all but the superpowers and even they need to share technology and manufacturing, as evidenced by the F-35. V/STOL fixed-wing aircraft have never been a cost-effective solution, far better to leave that role to rotary wings.

    The war in Iraq was, I believe, the last time manned fixed-wing aircraft proved useful but UAV technology was in it’s infancy. Now it could fulfill the roles of the F-117, Tornado and other aircraft used at the time. In Afghanistan, the only aircraft of any use has been the helicopter, apart from the C-17 to bring bodies home.

    As for civil pilots, I hope they will continue for many years to come but somehow I doubt it. You only have to look at automated trains, buses and the possibilities of robotic cars to see the way things are going.

    The future as envisaged by comic books may have been a long time coming but it will get here eventually, just not in the way the artists imagined.

  4. You can find hover video from March 17 here:

    But there is general consensus that the thing which most limits the performance characteristics of new fighter aircraft is the human pilot.

    • Thanks for the video

      I see what you are both saying, but I find the prospect of a robot with weapons a little scary: it could have some rather disastrous consequences. We don’t have any aircraft in operation capable of flying itself, even the UAVs used in Afghanistan are remotely controlled by a pilot. In some ways it might be a good thing if we can avoid losing the lives of pilots, but it’s not so good for those on the ground being shot at by the UAV. I hear there is a lot of controversy about the use of UAVs in Afghanistan. Also pilotless aircraft would ruin any possibility of me joining the RAF as a fighter pilot!
      Tornados are being used extensively in Afghanistan as reconaissance and ground support aircraft: the pilotless era is not quite in sight. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe not.

      Thanks for your opinions! It’s always great to hear from those experienced in this subject.

  5. The peditor UAV came close to killing binladin.

  6. It may be off-topic but an interesting issue is Google’s current conflict with China. The immovable force coming up against the irresistable object?

    BTW, did anyone see Prof. Brian Cox going vertical in a Lightning in ‘Wonders of the Cosmos’? Lucky bastard! Why didn’t the RAF keep an airworthy one?

  7. Yes, it has been in the news quite a lot lately, but I don’t fully understand the issue. I suppose Google would make a lot more money if it was popular in China.

    I didn’t see that video, I suppose you’re refering to the English Electric / BAC Lightning? It was supposed to be enormously fast and agile, I believe it could do Mach 2. I suppose the RAF moved on and chose a better aircraft, for example the Tornado had a greater armament and better avionics. All planes, no matter how impressive, go out of date at some point.

  8. Neither do I. Of course Google stand to make a lot of money but is more to do with freedom of expression. Why should so many people be prevented from access to the wider world?

    Re the Lightning, yes. Is simply my favourite aircraft of all time. Was brutal but sexy. Have sat in the cockpit but never flown. If you’re in the UK you can watch it at BBC iPlayer. Else check out:




  9. I see, I agree with you. Then again, according to one of the reports a lot of people in China seem to be perfectly happy with the baidu search engine.

    Thanks for the videos! 🙂 I’ve seen one in an aviation museum but never had the privilege to sit in one, let alone fly in one. I love the way one engine is on top of the other, it looks awesome and is totally unique.

  10. There are only two flying Lightnings in the world, both here:


    If you have the odd $20,000 to spare, check out the brochure. (This is not an advertisement, just a dream.)

    I promise I’ll stop babbling on about the Lightning now and find something else (M-D Phantom anyone?).

    • Wow thanks for the link, I think I heard about a place where you can be taken up in Swiss F/A-18s once, it’s been my dream to do something like it ever since I heard of it, I really hope I get the chance some day!

      Sadly, I do not have $20,000 dollars to spare at the moment, maybe I will in the future… if so I will definitely spend it on something like this.

      I love the Phantom, I think I did a brief post about it a while ago… it was popular with lots of air forces I think.

  11. It is so sad to think that we’re at the end of the era of the manned interceptor but perhaps we should be glad. I have some pics of a Spitfire with some underwing tanks supposedly full of of beer which I’d like to verify.

    Coming up soon (am not sure how to add pics).

    • hmm. It is sad in some ways. But also we will be able to save lives by using aircraft without pilots more. This is controversial though.

      I’m not sure how to add pictures in comments either, but it would be nice to see those photos!

  12. If you send me your email address will fwd pics.


  13. Wondered if you got the Spit pics.

  14. Re your response, no problem. I’m retired so have plenty of time on my hands for mucking about on the net.

    I’d like to see the pics on your blog (if you can) but wouldn’t expect any credit for the post, since it wasn’t original.

    Again it’s off-topic but there isn’t an appropriate section. I’d like to know what other readers think of Roger Bacon’s ‘Straight and Level’ column in Flight International magazine. I have many examples from 1960. What appeals to me about it is that aviation is such an essentially serious subject, it’s good to see it being treated with a little more levity.

    • Ok, I will put a new post up soon with these pictures in, thank you.

      I’ve never read it, but have any other readers got any ideas on it? I agree that aviation is a very serious subject.

  15. You actually make it appear so easy with your presentation but I in finding this matter to be really one thing which I think I would
    never understand. It kind of feels too complicated and extremely vast for me.
    I am taking a look ahead to your subsequent publish,
    I will attempt to get the cling of it!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: