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And now - new stealth jumpjet makes first hover landing

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Royal Navy's running-jump-jet landing technique may not be required after all

The US Marines, the main planned buyer of the F-35, will be using it primarily as a strike plane - but the Royal Navy, which will have no other jets, will also use it as air cover for the fleet and will need it to get back on deck without dumping weapons. The Sea Harrier's inability to do this in hot climates** was the reason the legendary fighter was taken out of service some years back, limiting the Royal Navy today to Harrier GR9s that have no fighter radar and carry only short-range Sidewinder missiles as opposed to the Sea Harrier's arse-kicking beyond-visual-range AMRAAMs.

The Royal Navy have even gone so far as to develop a new landing profile for jumpjets which they call Shipboard Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL), where a Harrier or F-35B can come down still going forward fast enough to use wing lift as well as engine/fan thrust - and yet slowly enough to halt before falling off the side of the ship, even without use of arrester wires.

Senior naval aviators have told The Reg that the Royal Navy will probably use SRVL regardless of the F-35B's vertical landing performance, as it will allow still more load to be carried and will mean that engines don't have to be run at maximum redline power in the hover so much.

That said, rolling SRVL landings will take up a lot more room on a carrier's deck than hovering ones, and jumpjets have had to land on other ships than carriers in the past, so the RN may yet be glad to have the full vertical-landing option.

Despite yesterday's success, however, serious question marks still hang over the F-35B and indeed over the whole F-35 programme (there are also A and C versions of the jet, intended for runway and catapult-carrier operations).

Today, though, worried Pentagon project bureaucrats and manufacturers in the US and UK*** will simply be happy to have some good news to tell us for once. ®

Bootnotes

*The big fliptop lid covers the top of the fan tunnel; the small dorsal doors behind it let extra air into the engine for high-thrust hover operations. There are more doors on the underside to let the jet exhaust twist downward and to cover the bottom of the fan tunnel when not in use.

**Jet engines lose thrust when sucking hotter air.

***The F-35's lead maker is Lockheed of the US, but quite a lot of work - especially on the F-35B - is being done in Blighty. BAE Systems' UK operations make significant parts of the plane (Tomlinson is a BAE employee, too) and Rolls-Royce make the thrust fan, swivelling exhaust pipe and the under-wing minijets which stop the plane rolling over in the hover. Rolls is also working on an a new engine, the F136, which is meant to be offered to F-35 buyers in future as an alternative to the current F135 from Pratt & Whitney.

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