Lockheed Martin (Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., USA) announced on March 18 that a supersonic F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter rode more than 41,000 lb of thrust to a vertical landing for the first time, confirming its required ability to land in confined areas both ashore and afloat.
“Today’s vertical landing onto a 95-foot square pad showed that we have the thrust and the control to maneuver accurately both in free air and in the descent through ground effect,” said F-35 Lead STOVL pilot Graham Tomlinson.
Tomlinson performed an 80-knot (93 mph) short takeoff from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., at 1:09 p.m. EDT on March 18. About 13 minutes into the flight, he positioned the aircraft 150 ft/45.7m above the airfield, where he commanded the F-35 to hover for approximately one minute then descend to the runway.
The composites-intensive aircraft in the test, known as BF-1, is one of three F-35B STOVL jets currently undergoing flight trials at the Patuxent River test site. It is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan engine driving a counter-rotating Rolls-Royce LiftFan. The shaft-driven LiftFan system, which includes a Rolls-Royce three-bearing swivel duct that vectors engine thrust and under-wing roll ducts that provide lateral stability, produces more than 41,000 pounds of vertical lift. The F135 is the most powerful engine ever flown in a fighter aircraft.
“The low workload in the cockpit contrasted sharply with legacy short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) platforms,” said Tomlinson, a retired Royal Air Force fighter pilot and a BAE Systems employee since 1986. “Together with the work already completed for slow-speed handling and landings, this provides a robust platform to expand the fleet’s STOVL capabilities.”
Robert J. Stevens, Lockheed Martin chairman and chief executive officer, said, “Today’s vertical landing of the F-35 BF-1 aircraft was a vivid demonstration of innovative technology that will serve the global security needs of the U.S. and its allies for decades to come. I am extremely proud of the F-35 team for their dedication, service and performance in achieving this major milestone for the program.”
The F-35B will replace U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B STOVL fighters and F/A-18 strike fighters. The United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and the Italian Air Force and Navy will employ the F-35B as well. With its short takeoff and vertical landing capability, the F-35B will enable allied forces to conduct operations from small ships and unprepared fields, enabling expeditionary operations around the globe.