UK to extend rolling carrier landing research for JSF

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The UK Ministry of Defence is continuing research to refine a hybrid shipboard rolling vertical landing (SRVL) technique, potentially to be employed as the primary recovery mode for Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighters operating from the Royal Navy's two Future Aircraft Carriers (CVF).

A programme of MoD-sponsored research work, including technical advice from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), has already concluded that SRVL would offer a significant increase to the F-35B's payload "bring back", without any fundamental platform or safety issues. However, further investigations are planned to address a range of optimisation and integration issues, says Martin Rosa, JSF technical co-ordinator in the Dstl's air and weapon systems department.

 
© BAE Systems

An SRVL involves a short take-off and vertical landing aircraft performing a "running landing" on to the carrier flightdeck, using air speed to provide wingborne lift to complement engine thrust. The touchdown position on an axial flightdeck is similar to that of a conventional carrier - about 45m (150ft) from the stern, but no arrestor gear is required, as the aircraft uses its brakes to come to a stop within a distance of 90-150m. The technique could allow an F-35B to recover with an extra 907kg (2,000lb) of weapons and fuel, or reduce propulsion system stress and increase engine life.

The Dstl began work to examine the feasibility of employing the SRVL manoeuvre in the late 1990s. Following a series of simulation-based studies, the MoD's investment approvals board in July 2006 endorsed the requirement as part of its F-35B-based Joint Combat Aircraft programme.

Speaking at the Royal Aeronautical Society's International Powered Lift conference in London in July, Rosa said SRVL studies have shown that "a way forward exists to achieving operationally useful increases in bring-back, compared to a vertical landing, on board CVF with an appropriate level of safety". But "uncertainties remain in terms of the scope of an operational clearance and the potential impact on the sortie generation rate for CVF".

Qinetiq used its VAAC Harrier testbed to perform representative land-based flight trials and a ship-based SRVL demonstration aboard the French navy's aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle last year.

 
© Qinetiq

Rosa said past work has also identified a promising visual landing aids (VLA) concept optimised for SRVL and stabilised against deck motion. "We will continue to mature the SRVL-optimised VLA arrangements, look at the possible 'tuning' of the JSF flight-control laws, and further study the effect of SRVL on the CVF sortie generation rate," he said. The capability's full scope will be confirmed after flight trials from the 65,000t vessels, which are due to enter service in 2014 and 2016, respectively.

Other forthcoming work includes optimisation of the approach profile, agreement on the optimal post-touchdown technique, and mitigation for failure cases, such as a burst tyre on touchdown.