Marines Laud JSF Vertical Landing

Marines Laud JSF Vertical Landing

Well, no one can say the Lockheed JSF team hasn’t had a good week. First came the hover and short takeoff and short landing. Today, they capped it with the plane’s first true vertical landing.

The Marines were officially happy. “Having the F-35B perform its first vertical landing underscores the reality of the Marine Corps achieving its goal of an all STOVL force,” said Lt. Gen. George Trautman, deputy commandant for aviation. “Being able to operate and land virtually anywhere, the STOVL JSF is a unique fixed wing aircraft that can deploy, co-locate, train and fight with Marine ground forces while operating from a wider range of bases ashore and afloat than any other TacAir platform.”

Of course, there are always skeptics out there, thank goodness. “I’ll look forward to the STOVL ops,” Winslow Wheeler, at the Center for Defense Information and all-about-town defense budget guru, said in an e-mail. “They say in their statement they will perform at ‘unprepared fields.’ By ‘field’ do they mean cow pasture or Hartfield Atlanta International. I suspect the latter, but they’ll sell the former.”

The plane, BF-1, took off at 80 knots using less than 1,000 feet of runway from the Pax River strip at 1:09 p.m. Then the pilot brought the plane 150 feet above the airfield, hovered and then descended to the runway.

Here’s what if looked like:

That’s 41,000 pounds of thrust that the pilot is riding down. According to Lockheed, the approach included “the first free air hover” for the F-35B.

The Marines noted that they will stand up their official test squadron on April 2 — Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron 501 (VMFAT-501) — at Eglin Air Force Base.

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I know the Marines are happy. After a week or two of the Nunn-McCurdy issue, and then Denmark, things were looking pretty dismal. Now things just look bad.

“That’s 41,000 bounds of thrust that the pilot is riding down.” What the heck is a bound. Is their a new weight system I wasn’t notified about? =P

Not bad, but do you mind if I hold my applause for a couple of years at least?

Don’t you know anything? Bounds are a highly classified measurement system for stealthy jets :–) I fixed it. Thanks for pointing it out.

Go ahead and hold your applause … but get ready for a standing ovation.

one test of how many thousands?
this is not one new technology, but one good things for the f-35 in the eyes of buyers but that hide one big lot of probs

With the average unit price doubling, sucking resources from other vitaly needed systems, it will never get a standing ovation. It will be another evample of knowingly selling an unexecutable plan to a gulllible or complicit customer and that given unlited time and respources an acceptable product can eventually be procured. Sound of one hand clapping at best.

This is great engineering, but what a price tag to date!

If you watch the many intake doors and hatches that open when engaging the lift fan for vertical flight, its makes me wonder how this will be reliably in battle field conditions. A thousand test flights from now, we will know how good this fighter really is. Until then, I will remain skeptical.

The USMC’s decision to stick with a IOC of 2012 is a little concerning as the F-35B STOVL is easily the most complex of the JSF variants to produce. So far flight testing has occurred in an airframe that is essentially a test mule with little or no avionics, no weapons systems, and carefully controlled weight parameters. Outside air temps impact thrust and it is no accident that STOVL testing started in the winter/spring months to insure the best thrust to weight ratio.

How will a loaded with ordnance battle ready F-35B fly in hot summer conditions such as might be encountered in Afghanistan? This is a critical question due to the weight management problems that the F-35 continues to struggle with. The removal of fire suppression equipment, and the recent faster then expected take off speeds/longer take off distances indicate that the weight issues have yet to be resolved.

So while the USAF and USN have thoughtfully pushed out IOC for their variants in response to the problems with the JSF Program, the Marines seem to be sticking with the original plan. There are parallels with this decision that are similar to the V-22, which was pushed into service without adequate flight testing and which resulted in a sad and regrettable loss of life.


I agree with others, great concept, much needed replacement, but lets not lose more of the few and the proud to inadequate testing. When the Harrier first came out, Phantoms could out fly, out fight, and carried so much more ordinance, while the attack helicopters can effectively do the same or more from a hovering platform, again with more ordinance. I think the Osprey will prove a superb flight platform, but lets not pay that same cost in Marine lives to appease some politically connected Generals, lets be triply sure this time. Semper Fi.

Great concept as a replacement hopefully learning and advancing from similar aircraft of the past. The major concern that I would have would be and always has been Time on Station considering that the Vertical takeoffs and landings gobbles up fuel. Real combat support requires significant time on station, added fuel means less available ordanance for support. Great idea and looks pretty, but is it the only answer when limited funds may be the wave in the future? Is it really a cost effective answer to the projected need based on the future mission of the Corps as currently defined?

Would someone please verify for me the need for a replacement of the Harrier. I don’t recall many , if any, instances where a STOVL was instrumental in combat. And what I mean is not is ability to fight, but when was it necessary to employ the STOVL feature as a key to the missions success? This ability is extremely expense both in cost to build and operate and adds great complexity to an aircraft. People speak of landing just behind enemy lines in battle to refuel/rearm. Well who is going to be able to handle the logistics of that during the battle? Who resupplies the resupplier’s? I just don’t get it. Why not just give Marine pilots a replacement for the their F/A-18 and simplify their missions? And simplify the JSF program immensely.

STOVL isn’t a combat enhancement as much as it is an operational feature. It allows the Marines to operate a close air support platform with the range and fuel efficiency that a fixed wing aircraft affords without needing to deploy with a Nimitz class carrier and operate from bases without the long maintained runways needed by a conventional jet strike fighter. The British Navy uses STOVL craft. so that they don’t need any conventional aircraft carriers at all.

As for the need to replace the Harrier, that all depends on how important you think stealth capability is for current and future battlefield operations. ;)

There’s a lot of reasons to have STOVL. But I’ll say a lower response time because of the ability to land on austere landing zones is the primary advantage. This is very useful in our current fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as future COIN and conventional battles.

The frontlines often don’t have a prepared airstrip for jet aircraft to land and take off from. Having aircraft take off far away from airbases or carriers far from the frontlines and orbit the battlespace to be able to respond to CAS requests requires a lot of planning and management (scheduling sorties, coordinating tanker aircraft, pilot rest, forecasting weather, etc). An error in planning or management or inclement weather can result in a gap in aircraft availability for CAS missions… that one or two hours (or even 15 minutes) of non-CAS availability can cost lives of our guys on the ground. If the base or carrier is far away, emergency aircraft response times suffer if additional or replacement aircraft are needed in the battlespace. Having aircraft on the ramp on alert status and hot-cocked reduces response times, but it’ll still take a while for them to travel to the battlespace.

By being able to launch from a FOB or FARP, it reduces the amount of operations planning and management required, reduces (if not eliminates) the need for in-flight refueling, and aircraft emergency response times are greatly reduced. FOBs and FARPs are relatively easy to setup, pack up and be moved compared to setting up even a limited-capability airbase. Also, there have been instances in Iraq where B-1 bombers, F-15E strike fighters, or F-16 fighters were unable to launch from base due to bad weather, even though the weather in the area where the CAS request came from was clear.

While helicopters have a similar advantage with being able to operate from FOBs and FARPs, they can have a slower response time due to their slower speed compared to a Harrier (180 MPH vs 660 MPH). Helicopters are also very vulnerable in urban settings, as is evidenced when a flight of AH-64 Apaches was turned around from ground fire when Operation Iraqi Freedom first kicked off, and more famously noted in the movie Blackhawk Down.

Remember, in CAS missions, time is of the essence… because usually by the time a CAS request has come in, things are already bad for our guys on the ground. This is one of the many reasons the Marine Corps has the unique requirement for STOVL fighters, whereas the Navy and Air Force lack the requirement altogether. One of the other reasons is STOVL aircraft can operate from amphibious assault ships to support landing forces (Marine Corps F/A-18’s can’t operate from these ships). Part of Marine Corps doctrine is being able to quickly and independently respond to contingency operations well before the Army, Navy and Air Force can. So they’ll need their own aerial assets to bring to the fight for places where the Navy and Air Force doesn’t have a carrier or airbase nearby.

It’s my opinion STOVL and tilt rotor aircraft are too gimmicky and too expensive. Expecially when combining it in the same airframe as a conventional airplane. I can see the logic in a single purpose airplane and carrier fleet as you mentioned the British have done. Very clean supply management issues.

Would it have been as effective for our Navy to use an older carrier equipped with only USMC F-35C’s? Better for the entire JSF program not to be burdened with a STOVL version. We seem to build things just because we can but despite their limited usefulness.

Nice synopsis, Trophy. While I am big on cost consideration, sometimes operational effectiveness requires a costly solution. It’s part of being the best — winning the wars and keeping the peace.

I really wonder if this is what USMC needs for CAS. Much has been said about Day 1 and Day 2 operations. Stealthy and less stealthy. Some of the factors listed in previous posts like quick response, close to FEBA and all that don’t touch on the fact that this is a Cadillac for a Chevy mission. CMC mentions needing a lighter, quicker force when talking about combat vehicles but has he overlooked the logistical footprint of a squadron of any model JSF?
I don’t see the need for stealthy vstol to be forward deployed to an EAF. If you look at how many Harrier II’s USMC had pre-brac and after, USMC it seems could have enhanced it’s expeditionary CAS portfolio by returning F/A18C’s to USN, keeping more Harriers active, and had more $$ for other mission essential items. I’m not in anyway suggesting USMC doesn’t need next generation vstol, but do they need all the bells and whistles?

At it’s current stage tilt-rotor aircraft are indeed gimicky, it’s an unproven technology. But conventional aircraft was in that same predicament prior to WWI, and proved invaluable in WWII (air power isn’t the war winner as theorists would like to believe, but it still contributes a lot to our victories). Rotary-wing aircraft (aka helicopters) went through the same thing and started proving their worth in the Korean War, then came of age in Vietnam. STOVL aircraft proved their worth when the British relied on them in the Falklands War.

Today’s successes were built upon the failures of yesterday.

For our current fight and against low-tech opponents in COIN operations, stealth is not needed at all. I don’t think the Marine Corps really value the stealth capabilities for our current fighting. Remember, the JSF program started as a merger of the Marine Corps and Air Force’s Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter program (to replace the AV-8 and F-16) and the Joint Advanced Strike Technology program (which was a program to include the Navy into the Common Strike Fighter program). So basically the Marine Corps got stealth as a bonus to what they originally wanted.

But for a day one fighting force against a well-equipped technological opponent, I’m sure the Marine Corps would appreciate the stealth capabilities. Remember, it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

Now the question about the logistics is a good one, I’m not too concerned about the logistics for the Air Force and the Navy variants since they’ll be operating from rather static locations anyways.… but they have the bonus of greater parts commonality compared to having less than .01% parts commonality between F/A-18’s, A-10’s, F-15’s, and F-16’s. But the Marine Corps by nature is a more mobile force, so logistical footprint is very important especially if they are to maintain the doctrine of being able to rapidly and independently deploy and sustain combat operations anywhere around the world in a moment’s notice.

Now here’s how the program is supposed to work for the advantage for the Marine Corps inclusion into the JSF program: 1) it’s supposed to reduce overall costs across the entire DoD by having a single airframe for three services to replace four airframes (F/A-18C/D, F-16, AV-8 and A-10). Even if the actual per airframe cost is relatively high, the real savings is in the parts and supply for the airframe… which costs exponentially more than the aircraft themselves over the course of the life of the aircraft. That cost savings means more room for other things across the DoD. 2) more advanced capability for the Marine Corps. For air combat, the F-35B would be more capable than the AV-8, especially in terms of electronic warfare (a huge advantage over the AV-8 in this regard). Especially for day one operations where a Navy carrier or Air Force airbase is not nearby to provide air cover. For ground-pounding, the F-35B is projected to have a greater combat radius than the AV-8, as well as carry more ordnance.

Now is all this going to become reality? None of us here really know, just the people actually involved in the program. We won’t know until much later. Take a look at the TFX program that resulted in the F-111 (the 1960’s predecessor to the JSF program).

Excerpt from: http://​www​.fas​.org/​p​r​o​g​r​a​m​s​/​s​s​p​/​m​a​n​/​u​s​w​p​n​s​/​a​i​r​/at

“The F-111 was a multipurpose tactical fighter bomber capable of supersonic speeds. The aircraft was one of the more controversial aircraft ever to fly, yet it achieved one of the safest operational records of any aircraft in USAF history and became a highly effective all-weather interdiction aircraft. As a result of a poorly thought-out development specification, both the Navy and Air Force had become committed, much against their will, to a civilian-inspired “Tactical Fighter Experimental” (TFX) program. This called for developing a single aircraft-the F-111-to fulfill a Navy fleet-defense interceptor requirement and an Air Force supersonic strike aircraft requirement. In retrospect, this was impossible to achieve, especially since planners placed priority upon the Air Force requirement, and then tried to tailor this heavy landplane to the constraints of carrier-based naval operations. The naval aircraft, the F-111B, was never placed in production. The Air Force aircraft, which was produced in a variety of models, including the F-111A, F-11D, F-11E, and F-11F, as well as an FB-111A strategic bomber version, had numerous problems, and only the F-111F actually fulfilled the original TFX design specification. This was less the fault of General Dynamics than of the civilian planners in the Pentagon whose “cost effective” inclinations ironically produced the major aeronautical fiasco of the 1960s-and a costly one at that.”

I Think Trophy’s reply to your original post below articulates the need for STOVL very well. I guess the real question is would it have been better in the long run to make the STOVL CAS platform a separate project vs. wrapping it within the JSF program. How much more would 2 aircraft designed from the ground up cost?

Basing concepts that put the STOVL closer to the battle and single engine with a large fuel payload make time on station a positive feature of the F-35B. As for “gobbling up fuel” vertical landings follow a quicker, direct approach to the landing site at mil power during the transition, followed by a short descent. Not much different fuel consumption. A STO take off requires no more fuel than a conventional.

One additional consideration to add to the excellent points Trophy has made is that the Marine Corps can save significant costs when training the personnel needed for the JSF. Instead of training aviators on the F-18 platform and the AV-8 platform, and concurrently training maintainers for two separate platforms, they only need to train the fixed-wing aviators and maintainers on one platform.

I personally can add emphasis on the Marine Corps’ need for STOVL capability. The Corps is an amphibious force in readiness, and the ability to launch fixed-wing (read: FAST) aviation assets from an amphibious ship is a key part of the MEU’s effectiveness. Hence the reason the Corps employs the Harrier in the first place. The MEU is not complete without an Air Combat Element. Secondly, as effective as helicopter-based Close Air Support is, the speed of the Harrier, Osprey, and soon this F-35B, is of great value.

And I emphatically suggest that the Mr. Winston Wheeler, the alleged “defense budget guru” mentioned in the article, get his ass out of the office and into the field with a Marine Wing Support Squadron, specfically in the Airfield Operations Company. I am an Aircraft Rescue Firefighter who deployed to Iraq as part of such a unit (MWSS-273) in 2008–2009, and I can guarantee that some of the austere operating environments that I and my fellow Marines experienced would blow his mind. We reclaimed and repaired one of Saddam’s old (bombed-out) airfields and were able to handle CH-46s, CH-53s, AH-1s, UH-1s, and C-130s from what had been a pock-marked patch of concrete in the middle of the desert, and we did it for months while living in tents with no running water or infrastructure. We operated helos out of an abandoned village off a main highway from expeditionary matting pads and an “airfield” area that units previous to us had built from scratch. Other elements of our unit pushed into the north and turned what had been an empty patch of desert into a large facility launching fixed-wing fighters in support of ground operations. <continued>

My MOS (Crash Crew) has its school at an Air Force base and is a combined training school with all five branches of the Department of Defense, and the austere conditions and adaptability with which we operated in theater are something the other branches’ Firefighters could not have dreamed of (except maybe the Army folks who work with the Army helo units). When most people think of the expeditionary nature of the Marine Corps, most focus on the ground side and the forward-deployed nature of the Air Wing is often forgotten, and people don’t realize just how different Marine Corps Aviation is from the other branches. To properly provide that extra layer of protection for our boys on the ground, the aviation side is going to be right out there in theater with them.

Or that’s how this Corporal sees it, at least.


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