back to article First ever supersonic stealth jumpjet starts hover tests at last

The world's first supersonic stealth jumpjet, intended to replace the famous Harrier in British, US and other forces worldwide, has arrived at the American airbase where it will finally begin to flight-test its vertical-lift and hover capabilities. F-35B doors open from below. Credit: JSF Program Doors open - but nothing …


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  1. Steve X

    Fliptop lid?

    If the pilot bails out when hovering, might he get sucked into the fan backwards?

    I do wonder what the point is, though. Aren't carrier-launched aircraft intended for operations to support or defend the carrier? If so, what's the point in supersonic aircraft? Is this just because there are no bases within supersonic flight fuel range of likely trouble spots? Wouldn't it be cheaper to develop bigger add-on fuel tanks that could be dumped once the aircraft is on site?

  2. bobbles31
    Thumb Down


    It's more of a drop jet than a jump jet.

  3. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD
    IT Angle


    How did the phantoms go when yous had 'em, eh?

    what happened to them by the way?

  4. PaulK

    First Supersonic Jump Jet?

    I think not, Lewis. That privilege belongs to the Yak141 which was also pants and was cancelled in development.

    The MoD mantra about the Sea Harrier is also suspect. They could have modified their operating procedures for the different environment but instead chose to bin it on the promise first of all of the Type 45 ADP and the forthcoming JSF. In the meantime, the RN has no area air defence, proving what we all know - all those admirals might look good on TV but they know fuck all about running a navy. The Indian Navy continues to operate the Sea Harrier and I dare say it gets a bit fucking toasty round their coast.

  5. Sean Bergeron
    Black Helicopters

    Not a real big deal

    The US's fleet of the short takeoff varieties is pretty small. The main aims are to replace most of the F-15 force (the remaining ones not to be replaced by F-22s), and the older F-16s in the Air Force, and the older F/A-18s in the Navy. Same deal with the Canadians and Australians (wonder if they have some slated to replace their remaining F-111s, too). It's also an attractive option for those countries still flying F-4s.

    The Super Hornet isn't really designed for those roles. It's a dual-role fleet-oriented aircraft. Yes, it's got good ground attack capabilities, but, its main mission is still Naval air superiority (think areas too far out to cover with the F-22).

  6. Anonymous Coward

    If only

    we (Europe) hadn't jacked it in the mid-late 1960s we'd have already had (stealthy) S/VTOL jets by now.

    Hawker Siddeley P.1154 prototypes broken up before completion.

    Dassault Mirage IIIV project stopped 1966 after loss of prototypes

    EWR VJ 101 prototype made supersonic but project cancelled in 1968.

    Out of these three, I'm sure there was potential for at least one operational design.

  7. Joe Cooper

    Air defense

    "Aren't carrier-launched aircraft intended for operations to support or defend the carrier? If so, what's the point in supersonic aircraft?"

    If the enemy strike fighters get too close, they can fire missiles at your ship and destroy you and your fighter has nothing to say about it.

    However, these strike fighters are also weighed down by lots of fuel and massive weapons, making them inferior fighters and, if you reach them in time you just need to stifle them until they burn too much fuel or drop weapons to flee.

    This is the job of the interceptor. Look at the F-14, one of the last jets specifically designed for this job. Its marginally faster than its non-naval contemporary, the F-15, and can carry massive AIM-54 long range missiles, but has inferior thrust:weight ratio.

  8. Desk Jockey

    Ooooh shiny!

    Steve X - Ejector seats have a nice habit of firing you a good 100 feet clear of the aircraft (hence the real risk of spine damage from using one) so the only way the pilot is going to get sucked in is if the plane is still hovering stationary and by bad luck their chute lands them back on it. This would of course raise the question of why did they eject from a not crashing aircraft in the first place...

    A lot of people are very interested in this aircraft. A lot of other companies are very nervous at losing export orders. It is going to be very interesting to see how this pans out. Fingers crossed it does the nice sexy hovering dance ok!

  9. John Robson Silver badge


    I know how the harrier can balance, it has 4 exhausts, so can vary the trust to each of them to deal with the problem of balancing.

    From what I can see this thing has one fan (possible vectored) and one jet (certainly vectored)

    Balancing on two points is generally considered more difficult that doing the same on 3 or 4 points isn't it?

  10. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    @sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD

    The F4K Phantoms that the Royal Navy operated when we had real carriers were transferred to the RAF when the Audacious class Ark Royal (not the current one) was scrapped.

    The last I heard was that they were doing service as long-range interceptors in Scotland (replacing the English Electric/BAe Lightenings), but this was some time ago (the Ark was scrapped about 1978, so if they were still flying, the Phantoms would be pushing 40).

    The RAF also took the remaining Buccaneers.

    As I understand it, the new carriers (if they are ever built) have provision in the design for arresters and catapults, but it is unlikely that the non-nuclear powerplant would be able to provide either electrical power for an electro-magnetic catapult, or steam for a steam catapult.

    The simple answer would be to put a couple of Astute sub. powerplants in to replace the gas turbines, and re-use the space freed up by not having to carry gas-turbine fuel and fresh water for additional weapons and provisions, providing power or steam, and increasing the range and usefulness of the carriers in general.

    Or maybe they will be regarded as too expensive, marking an end of the era of British sea power. There's sod all else left!

  11. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Reading between the lines...

    Are we to understand that from a US point of view, that the Royal Navy is just now a division of the overall American Armed services...

    ... just like the US Marines.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I thought only the press and game developers used the "jumpjet" term...

  13. Anonymous Coward

    The Chinese?

    They won't shoot at us, they've got too much money invested over here. And I can't have my local Harbor Freight (purveyor of cheap and cheerful Chinese tools) closing!

  14. Handle this!

    @sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD - They are in the boneyard

    Stick this in Google Earth 32° 9'4.92"N 110°50'11.27"W

    F14's are in there too. Interestingly the AIM-54 missiles that the F14 carried were fire and forget, the onboard computer could track over 200 targets, work out which were the biggest threats and advise which to launch against. The missle did the rest being capable of out running anything in the sky in terms of speed (with the exception of the x-15), able to pull 9g in a turn and had the longest range of any missle in service. In contrast, the current F18's missle system requires that the plane keeps flying towards the incoming target to keep it 'illuminated'.

    This appears to be a backward step but then again the US probably considers the F18 superior to anything it enemies can send up against it so why waste millions of dollars on missiles that can look after themselves. the end result is just the same.

  15. /dev/null


    The Mirage IIIV and VJ-101 were evolutionary dead ends - the IIIV had EIGHT small turbojets for lift (in addition to its main engine), the VJ-101 had SIX small turbojets for lift & thrust. Only the Pegasus engine used in the Harrier was a practical proposition at the time. The P.1154 could have worked too, but was killed by the Navy not actually wanting it.

  16. SkippyBing Silver badge

    @ Handle this

    The F-18s AMRAAMS don't need continuous illumination of the target by the launch aircraft as they're fire and forget, the old Sparrow did but only grandmothers and drug dealers still use those.

    @ John Robson, the Harrier doesn't individually vary the thrust to its nozzles, it uses reaction thrust from engine bleed air at the wingtips/nose/tail for control in the hover but there are only two engine controls one to point the nozzle and one to get more or less thrust. There's no fly by wire either, whereas the JSF has one 'engine' control, push it forwards to go faster and pull it back to go slower, if it's too slow for wingborne flight the nozzle starts to rotate and the lift fan come on line, all based on research by the VAAC Harrier at Boscombe down.

  17. hugo tyson
    Thumb Up

    Balance (@John Robson)

    Harriers also have little ducts at nose and tail and wingtips, that squirt air to keep the thing in trim according to stick movements AIUI. They're really very small, like 5cm x 10cm so you'd not notice them. No doubt the F35 has similar, so two lift jets vs 4 (outlets) is no biggie.

    What I would worry about is one of the engines stopping and the other keeping on... with the Harrier all the blow would ramp down evenly in an engine failure; the F35 will spin in pitch like a mad spinny thing making your ejection quite likely inverted, I imagine. ;-(

  18. ratfox Silver badge

    Future Russians airplanes?

    Are the US still worried about Russia?? It seems clear to me that Putin is more interested in oil than anything so mundane as wars...

  19. jason 7


    These planes are just now too expensive to risk actually using in combat, so are merely old fashioned 'posture power' for a past cold war conflict.

    We need lots of cheap and cheerful stuff that doesnt mind a bit of grit in the works.

  20. Caustic Soda

    Cheapest way to do the job...

    ...put our proven maritime reactor technology in, put the wires and plumbing in, and fly Rafales.

    It will please our French collaborators and save us a bleedin' fortune. Unless we do something silly like buy Rafales but insist they have RR engines...

    Mine's the coat with four stars on the epaulettes.

  21. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    RE: @sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD - They are in the boneyard

    ".....the current F18's missle system requires that the plane keeps flying towards the incoming target to keep it 'illuminated'....." Well, with the old SARH Sparrow (also carreid by Tomcats), that was true, but AMRAAM (carried by SuperHornets, F-16s, Eurofighter, Raptor, Uncle Tom Cobbley and just about every Western fighter not built in France) is fire-and-update, or fire-and-forget if there is a friendly like AWACS in the area. AMRAAM, unlike the old Sparrow, has it's own active radar for terminal guidance.

    In the mid-phase it flies a path calculated to get it close enough for the active homer to lock on, and this mid-phase can be updated by an encrypted datalink which can be fed either direct from the launching aircraft's radar, or from other radar data supllied by friendlies in the area (such as wingmen, AWACS or Hawkeye). In short, not only can a SuperHornet launch an AMRAAM and then turn away, they can even switch off their own radar to reduce the chance of detection and simply let an Hawkeye flying a hundred miles away supply the data to get the missile into the range where it switches to self-homing. If the range is shorter, the AMRAAM just goes straight to self-homing at launch, which makes it a much better dogfight missile than the old Sparrow, and with a much bigger punch than lighter SRAAMs like Sidewinder.

    But personally, whilst I am a big fan of Harrier, the F-14 was simply the most amazingly capable naval fighter ever, to the point where I'd even place odds on the Tomcat versus an F-35B.

  22. Tom 107
    Thumb Up

    Very good article

    Very good article, and certainly one of the most accurate in terms of explaining the Liftsystem, compared with recent articles in UK newspapers (not a high bar to get over, though).

    We are very near the start of the whole JSF programme - given the current success of the CTOL version, and the liklihood of a successful CV, there is already enough to give JSF pole position in the market of 10 years time. A successful STOVL would cement that position for years.

    STOVL is complicated, and for buyers that could have CV if they wanted (such as UK), it appears to be a bit compromised. However, for other nations it would them to have cutting-edge expeditionary airpower for the first time, or to have naval airpower without very big ships.

  23. Martyn Welch

    @John Robson

    From what I can remember of the design as shown in TV shows, when this was competing against another design (I believe) from Boeing, the JSF can provide some thrust out of vents at the wing tips (or something like that) to control roll.

  24. Geoff Johnson

    RE: balance... #

    The Harrier had a few little thruster vents in strategic places (I think they called them puffers), these were used as a fine balence control mechanism. I believe this new toy has a similar system.

  25. goggyturk

    @ Future Russians airplanes?

    Both the Russians and Chinese have announced they will develop a fifth generation fighter plane (eg stealth, high performance, AESA radars, etc, etc). The Russian airframe is due to fly this year.

    My money is on the Chinese getting there first. There are good reasons why US gov and biz networks are being continually probed by Chinese hackers.

    Having said that, the Su-35K is a serious threat to the F-35. In fact, any of the fourth gen fighters mentioned (Rafale, Eurofighter, Gripen) would eat the F-35 for breakfast if the F-35 missed with its first shot. It's a big assumption to make that stealth is some kind of silver bullet. Like any other new tech, counter measures are already being developed - mostly advanced passive sensors for IR and radar signals.

  26. Andrew Newstead

    @Balance (@John Robson)

    Just a note, the F35B actually only has one engine. This drives the lift fan in the front of the aircraft through a shaft drive taken off the front of the engine. The exhaust of this main engine also swivels from the straight to pointing downwards. All vertical lift, therefore depends on one engine - just like with the Harrier BTW. Also stability in the hover is handled in exactly the same way as with the Harrier by attitude jets (also called puffers).

    BTW the lift fan, shaft and gearbox for this have been developed by RR.

    Hope this clears up a few things

    Andrew Newstead (ex-RR and still interested!)

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Have you seen the X-35B's milestone flight?

    If you wanted to see the historic milestone the X-35B performing "Mission X" - with a short take-off, supersonic cruise and vertical landing, on 20 July 2001, then check out the following url:

  28. Anonymous Coward


    As a US Marine Harrier driver had on his business card:

    "It is better to stop, then land, rather than land and hope you will stop."

  29. hugo tyson
    Thumb Up

    Only 1 engine

    Phew! Thanks Andrew. So it's more like the harrier than you might think, good.

    Is there a clutch to disconnect the lift fan or does it depower that by feathering it somehow?

    It's that that I'd worry about failing in the hover. Something that's far less likely in a Harrier.

  30. Secretgeek

    Loooooonnnggg Landing

    "...the next month or so should see it flying slower and slower until it is actually hovering in mid-air."

    Must have a pretty big fule tank.

    Yes I know, I'm going.

  31. Henry Cobb

    Is the F-35 covered by the GPL?

    While the F-16 was the "Electric Jet", the F-35, like the F-22, is a "Software Jet" as most everything about the aircraft is defined by the software that runs on the main computing element.

    The UK and Israel have complained that the US will not be providing them with the source code for this software.

    However, are we sure that the coders used no GPL code in their millions of lines of software?

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