F-35 Lighting II JSF completes first vertical landing

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.

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.