Some people may not like the F-35 Lightning II, but all in all, it’s an amazing piece of engineering. Designing a high-performance fighter is hard enough. Making that fighter disappear in radar without compromising its performance is even harder.
But the hardest of which is making the thing hover.
So hard that prior the F-35, the Harrier was the only practical jump jet there was for years. Nevertheless, the benefits and advantages of a Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) warbird cannot be denied. It looks good on paper, as jump jets could land on shorter, or unprepared airstrips. And in real life, the Harriers proved itself in conflicts, like the Falkland War, where it shot down faster jets like the Mirage. That’s why the race to harnessed such power goes back in the Cold War, where VTOLs were seen as crucial in the event of a nuclear conflict.
And the Soviet Union actually had one, and there were words that the modern F-35 bears its DNA.
The advantages of a VTOL
The Harrier jump jet.
Helicopters and other rotorcrafts were the original VTOLs, and their flexibility demonstrated the advantages of having a vertical lifting aircraft in one’s armory. But during the Cold War, both sides needed something even more. A jet powered aircraft that could lift vertically like a helicopter.
Back then the so called impending Nuclear War was a real scare, and the World Powers were in the process of preparation. They needed to gain as much advantage over the others, and they assumed that in cases when Nuclear War did break (which thankfully, it didn’t), both sides expected a lot of devastations. In such event, a nuclear exchange will leave most airbases destroyed, hence aircrafts will have limited places to operate. This left them with roads, smaller airstrips, or even unprepared fields to land on.
And this is where VTOLs shine.
Airbases won’t be a problem, when you got an aircraft that could land anywhere, even in heavy winds. This also cuts the operation cost of mobilizati