Military Aviation

Here’s why the F-35 doesn’t feature thrust vectoring

The only features that the F-35 lacks is thrust vectoring. Why?

The 5th generation F-35 Lightning II integrates advanced stealth technology into a highly agile, supersonic aircraft that provides the pilot with unprecedented situational awareness and unmatched lethality and survivability. As new threats emerge, it is more important than ever for US and allied fighter fleets to fly the F-35 stealth fighter, the world’s only 5th generation international aircraft. While each aircraft is uniquely designed to operate from different environments, all three variants (F-35A, F-35B, F-35C) set new standards in network-enabled mission systems, sensor fusion and supportability. The F-35 redefines the multirole fighter.

X-31

The only features that the F-35 lacks is thrust vectoring (although the F-35B has a shaft-driven lift fan in fact is used only to make the aircraft STOVL operation possible). Why?

F/A-18 HARV

‘The United States thoroughly explored thrust vectoring in the late 1980s and early 1990s via the X-31, the F/A-18 HARV, the F-16 VISTA, the F-15 ACTIVE and also the YF-22 (F-22’s prototype),’ says James Smith, an aviation expert, on Quora.

F-16 VISTA

‘What they found was essentially that thrust vectoring had some benefits, but that its greatest benefits were associated with flight safety (getting out of stalls, spins, dives, etc), and that while it did provide an edge in air combat maneuvering and potentially minor advantages for stealth and fuel efficiency, it also had drawbacks.

F-15 ACTIVE

‘Those drawbacks include the addition of weight and volume, additional points of failure and (especially) increased maintenance costs, the encouragement of inexperienced pilots to accidentally lose all their energy, etc. Those outweigh the benefits when you’re talking about a jet that needs to be relatively affordable like the F-35.

YF-22

‘This is especially the case when you have a limited mass, money, volume, etc budget and you need to choose between something like thrust vectoring and other systems or capabilities that play a more important role in modern air combat (such as EO/IR sensors, a more capable radar, high-end ESM sensors, larger internal weapon bays, all-aspect stealth, towed decoys / jammers, etc).’

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Smith concludes:

‘In addition, aspects of thrust vectoring can be partially replicated through other means; low-speed maneuvering can be improved by having an unstable aircraft and powerful engine, post-stall control can be partially achieved via more advanced fly-by-wire control laws, and stall safety can be achieved via software limiters and automated fly-by-wire control commands that prevent stalls or make stall recovery much faster.’

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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, NASA and Lockheed Martin

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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