This week in: 1954

Bygone forays into the fraught world of stovl

Last week the US Marine Corps performed the first operational tests of its version of Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter – the F-35B – on board the small US aircraft carrier Wasp.

It successfully executed the short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) manoeuvres the aircraft was designed for – albeit hugely over budget and behind schedule, owing to well-publicised technical problems in developing the F-35B version for production.

But this isn’t this particular company’s first foray into the fraught world of STOVL. In October 1954 The Engineer reported on Lockheed Aircraft Corporation’s XFV-1 experimental aircraft for the US Navy.

“The XFV-1 can take off vertically from a standing start on its tail”

’Powered by twin gas turbines driving counter-rotating propellers, the “XFV-1” can take off vertically from a standing start on its tail, level off to fly and fight at very high speeds, hover stationary in the air and descend for a landing by backing straight down. The aircraft uses its four-pointed, X-shaped tail for a landing gear.

’A specially designed ground handling cart is used to lift the aircraft into its vertical take-off position. It also provides a ladder for the pilot to climb up and step sideways into the cockpit.’

For initial flight testing, however, a temporary undercarriage with long braced V-legs was attached to the fuselage, along with tail wheels on the lower pair of fins, for normal take-off.

Nevertheless, legendary Lockheed test pilot Herman ’Fish’ Salmon reportedly did manage to achieve the vertical transitions on a number of occasions.

A more powerful production version was planned that could, in theory, more easily execute the complex manoeuvres, but it was cancelled. The US Navy thought it was just too difficult for most pilots to operate and decided to concentrate on faster, conventional fighter aircraft.

This left British manufacturer Hawker Siddeley to take up the mantle with the first truly operational STOVL aircraft with the Harrier series.