QinetiQ has developed a novel solution for F-35B "rolling landings" on the U.K. Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers in high sea conditions.
The research organization, which acts as the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) main technology-proving agency, has successfully completed a series of trials using its two-seat Harrier T4 VAAC (vectored-thrust aircraft advanced control) aircraft on the carrier HMS Illustrious. QinetiQ says the trials proved its new Bedford Array visual landing aid system—which stabilizes the aircraft’s approach path in the presence of deck motion—as the solution for shipborne rolling vertical landings (SRVL) on the Royal Navy’s future carriers, particularly in rough sea conditions.
MOD has been funding ongoing research to refine and de-risk the use of SRVL approaches for its new jump jet—the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the F-35 Lightning II. The MOD plans to operate up to 36 F-35Bs from each of its new aircraft carriers: HMS Queen Elizabeth, currently expected to enter service in 2014, and HMS Prince of Wales in 2016.
An SRVL landing involves an STOVL aircraft executing a rolling landing onto the carrier flight deck, using air speed to provide wingborne lift to complement engine thrust. No arrestor gear is deployed as the aircraft uses its own brakes to stop.
Compared to a standard vertical landing, an SRVL recovery offers real advantages for the F-35B as heavier payloads can be brought back and safely landed on board ship. It also has the potential to reduce propulsion system stress and therefore extend engine life. The system ensures that the pilot flying the rolling landings makes an accurate approach to the deck, even in rough sea conditions. It takes inputs from external passive references and, when combined with information in the pilot’s helmet-mounted display, allows for a low workload and stabilized pilot approach in even the worst conditions.
“The U.K. has an incredible heritage of innovation in naval aviation and pioneered many of the things now taken for granted in the conventional carrier world,” said QinetiQ Test Pilot Justin Paines, who flew the X-35B Joint Strike Fighter Concept Demonstration Aircraft. “With the Bedford Array, we’ve done it again and developed an approach aid that has application beyond F-35B to other forms of embarked aircraft recoveries. We have already received interest from other countries involved in naval aviation.”
QinetiQ’s VAAC Harrier flew a total of 39 sorties to prove the Bedford Array landing system—in all, 67 vertical landings and around 230 SRVL approaches were flown.