The F-35B has the distinction of being the only existing fifth-generation fighter in the world that’s capable of executing a vertical landing. While technically capable of vertical takeoffs under extremely limited circumstances, the F-35B needs very little space to take off even with a full combat load — making it uniquely suited for operations aboard Marine Corps Wasp-class amphibious assault ships and the UK’s new aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth. The Queen’s flight deck is smaller than can be found on America’s Nimitz and Ford class super carriers and utilizes a ramp to assist the launch of fighters.

Once the fighters return with depleted fuel and likely less ordnance, they are light enough to execute vertical landings on the flight deck of these ships, eliminating many of the dangers associated with carrier flight operations. This short take off, vertical landing capability is commonly referred to as STOVL (Short Take Off, Vertical Landing).

The ability to take off and land vertically, of course, isn’t new. The Harrier family of jets, which are still in use with the United States Marine Corps, are also capable of this feat — though these dated air frames aren’t able to achieve supersonic speeds, nor do they boast the stealth capabilities enjoyed by the newer F-35s. Of course, a capability gap is to be expected between the AV-8B Harrier IIs in service and their forthcoming replacements. After all , the AV-8B first took to the skies in 1981, some 25 years before the F-35.

While the differences between these two fighters are innumerable, the significant advancements in aircraft function and control during the intervening years between programs is perhaps at its most conspicuous when you watch the difference in the ways these two planes execute their vertical landings aboard carriers.

In this video, captured aboard the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island, it’s quickly apparent that landing the Harrier is as much as art form as it is a technical skill. The jet visibly wobbles as the pilot levels the plane and lowers it to the deck in what looks like one part dance, one part wrestling match with the laws of physics.

However, this new video recently posted by UK Minister of Defense & Material, Edward Ferguson, from aboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth shows an F-35B executing the same sort of landing maneuver… but the difference in the way the aircraft manages the feat is incredible. Compared to the older Harrier, this F-35’s landing seems almost mechanical.

Although the F-35B is slated to replace the Harrier in U.S. Marine Corps operations, the aging jump jet is expected to remain in service for another decade to come.


Modified feature images courtesy of YouTube and WikiMedia Commons