JSF carrier trial puts VAAC Harrier testbed on a roll

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Qinetiq to perform evaluation of payload-boosting landing technique for UK's F-35Bs

Qinetiq's VAAC Harrier testbed will be used to demonstrate flight-control limits for a shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL) mode potentially applicable to the Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter currently preferred for the UK's Joint Combat Aircraft requirement. To be performed by the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre at Qinetiq's Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire, the work reflects continued interest in using the technique as a recovery option for the Royal Navy's two projected 65,000t Future Carrier (CVF) vessels.

An SRVL approach would exploit the ability of the short take-off and vertical landing F-35B to use vectored thrust to slow the speed of the aircraft while still gaining the benefit of wing-borne lift. This offers the possibility of significantly increasing "bring-back" payload compared with a vertical recovery, while also reducing stress on the single-engined aircraft's propulsion system.

"Consideration of the aerodynamic performance of JSF together with the available deck area of CVF design has shown that significant benefits could be realised by extending the principles of land-based RVL to shipborne operations," says the Ministry of Defence, adding: "The UK is keen to exploit this opportunity."

 
© Jamie Hunter / Aviacom   

A shipborne rolling vertical landing mode could be applicable to the JSF

Following initial UK studies, the US JSF programme office sponsored a more detailed analysis of the SRVL concept with Lockheed in 2004-5, culminating with a simulator trial at NASA's Ames Research Center in California in late 2005. The MoD says the "increasing maturity of this body of analysis and simulation indicates SRVL could be performed safely by JSF on CVF, although the effects of equipment failures and adverse conditions require further investigation".

The VAAC testbed will perform a series of flight trials, potentially using a large-deck aircraft carrier such as the French navy's FNS Charles de Gaulle, and concluding with a final evaluation of a preferred SRVL approach and landing using a "dummy deck" at Boscombe Down around November. "We are now starting to conduct initial development sessions in the VAAC simulator at Bedford [in Bedfordshire] and will begin the main body of research flying in May," says Qinetiq VAAC project manager Richard Watson. "We have already completed virtually all the software modifications necessary for the head-up display."

The VAAC aircraft - the oldest Harrier still flying worldwide - is currently supporting risk-reduction flights on the F-35B's unified flight control laws