Plane sailing

UK engineers have achieved the world’s first automatic landing of a short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft on a ship.


UK engineers have achieved the world’s first automatic landing of a short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft on a ship.


A team from Qinetiq was able to bring the experimental aircraft, the VAAC (Vectoredthrust Aircraft Advanced Control) Harrier to land on HMS Invincible automatically.


Funded by the US Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme and the UK MoD Joint Combat Aircraft Integrated Project Team (JCA IP), the development is seen as a key milestone in a risk reduction programme for the JSF STOVL aircraft. The ability to land an aircraft automatically on a ship will enable JSF pilots to conduct missions during the day or night and in poor weather conditions.


Qinetiq also claimed that the Autoland technology developed for JSF will significantly lessen the workload of pilots at the end of the mission, and reduce the difficulty of landing a plane on the moving platform of a ship.


The technology could also be used to enable unmanned aerial vehicles to be operated from ships.


The VAAC Harrier was designed by Qinetiq’s predecessor DERA, with funding from the US-UK JSF Office. It uses advanced fly-by-wire technology to hand over many of the Harrier’s flight characteristics to computers, making the aircraft simpler to handle and enabling engineers to fine-tune it quickly for improved handling based on pilot feedback.


It is anticipated that the procurement cost of the JCA will be £10bn, depending on the number of aircraft required.


On 16 May, engineers at Lockheed Martin, who are carrying out the final assembly of the first F-35, connected the 35ft carbon fibre composite wing to the fuselage, bringing together three of the aircraft’s four sections.


The aft fuselage has been built by BAE Systems at Samlesbury in Lancashire, and will be joined to the other sections by Lockheed Martin next month.