Harrier, JSF & STOVL Flight

The capability to both takeoff and land vertically is called VTOL for Vertical Take Off and Landing. Both the AV-8B Harrier and the F-35 Lightning II can take off vertically with a small load of fuel and weapons. However, neither one can take off vertically when fully loaded. Even the Harrier has never had such a capability at maximum takeoff weight because the thrust requirements and the amount of fuel needed to lift such a large weight straight up is simply impractical. This limitation explains why both the Harrier and the F-35B usually perform a rolling short takeoff at the beginning of the mission. This type of takeoff allows the plane to carry a reasonable weapon load and enough fuel for long range. After returning from its mission when the fuel is nearly gone, the plane weighs much less and can land vertically. This mission profile inspires the STOVL description.

Sea Harrier takes off using the ski jump aboard a British aircraft carrier
Sea Harrier takes off using the ski jump aboard a British aircraft carrier

The Harriers in service today perform rolling takeoffs whether based on land or at sea. The US operates the Harrier from the decks of amphibious assault ships while the British fly Harriers from small aircraft carriers. The British carriers also feature ramps that allow the plane to become airborne with a shorter takeoff roll. The F-35 will be operated in the same manner by both the US Marine Corps and the Royal Navy. The same techniques have also used by other navies flying STOVL aircraft, such as the Soviet Yak-38 flown during the Cold War. Like the British carriers, the Russians adopted ramps or "ski-jumps" to increase the plane's takeoff weight and shorten the takeoff roll. Ski-jumps can also be seen on the aircraft carriers of Italy, Spain, India, and Thailand. All of these countries fly the Harrier from their carrier decks and use the ramps to improve takeoff performance.
- answer by Molly Swanson, 30 July 2006

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