Jump jets, or will they ?

The F-35B is the much acclaimed JOINT STRIKE FIGHTER Stealth.

Look here to see a movie of the aircraft going through its paces F35 LIGHTNING II JSF.wmv

Senior Royal Navy aviators have said that the F-35B Lightning II successor to the Harrier will probably not land vertically on British aircraft carriers. Instead it will employ the "Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing" (SRVL) technique as routine: it will be a running-jump jet, as it were.

Rear Admiral Simon Charlier, head of the Fleet Air Arm, said that it would probably not make sense to train pilots in both the straight-down and SRVL methods of landing on a ship. "I think we'll find it makes sense to train just for the rolling landing," he said. The Ministry of Defence is known to have expended significant effort by boffins and test pilots on developing the SRVL idea, having carried out trials using a Harrier aboard the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

The Royal Navy is particularly interested in the idea, as it will need to use its future F-35Bs as air-to-air fighters as well as strike planes. The concern regarding a normal vertical landing as employed by the existing Harrier force is that the fighter needs to be able to fly a routine patrol fully armed and land back on the ship without dumping weapons.

The F-35B, then, will need to be able to land on a ship - often in hot weather, when jet engines lose thrust - still carrying 2 heavy AMRAAM missiles and a safe minimum of fuel. The Sea Harrier could only manage this in cold northern waters, hence its recent retirement. The F-35B, the world's first supersonic stealth jumpjet, has yet to show just how good it is at hovering in proper flight tests, though it has flown as a normal runway jet.

With an SRVL part-vertical, part-rolling landing, the F-35B would still make use of its central lift fan and swivelling engine exhaust. However it will also gain some extra lift from the wings, as it will still be moving forward.* According to naval sources, this will not only let the jet bring back a heavy weapons load, it will also mean less wear and tear on the engine. Jet engines deteriorate much faster when run at high power owing to the huge internal temperatures involved, so large amounts of maintenance (and therefore money) can be saved by avoiding this.

According to Admiral Charlier, vertical and SRVL deck landings are both easier to accomplish - and thus easier to train pilots for - than landing using arrester wires and tailhooks as the US and French navies do.