F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter STOVL Variant, United States of America


F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter STOVL Variant

The F-35B Standard Take-off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) is a single-engine, fifth generation fighter aircraft designed and developed by Lockheed Martin. It is the first aircraft to combine stealth technology with STOVL capabilities and supersonic speeds.

The F-35B will supersede the F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier II fighter aircraft currently in service with the United States Marine Corps (USMC). It will also replace GR7, GR9 and Sea Harrier aircraft deployed in the fleet of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.

Design of the JSF F-35B STOVL variant

The critical design review of the F-35B was completed in October 2006. The tricycle type retractable undercarriage design allows the aircraft to take-off from and land on the deck of small naval ships, unimproved airstrips, rough airfields and roads.

The aircraft is fitted with a refuelling probe on the right side of the front fuselage to carry out mid-air refuelling during combat missions. The weapon loads and cockpit layout of the F-35B are similar to those of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

Development of the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter

The development of F-35B began in November 2003. The aircraft was rolled out in December 2007. The maiden flight of the first F-35B prototype took place in June 2008. The low rate initial production (LRIP) contract for six F-35B STOVL aircraft was placed in July 2008. The second prototype achieved its first flight in February 2009.

The F-35B accomplished its hover capability during a flight test that took place at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in March 2010. It accomplished supersonic speeds in June 2010. The shipboard testing of the aircraft on the flight deck of the USS Wasp (LHD-1) aircraft carrier was completed in October 2011. The first two F-35Bs were delivered to the USMC in January 2012.

The assembly of the UK's first production F-35B aircraft, designated BK-1, was completed in November 2011. The maiden flight of the BK-1 took place in April 2012.

F-35B STOVL engines and propulsion

The F-35B STOVL is powered by a single Pratt & Whitney F135 afterburner turbofan engine rated at 125kN of dry thrust. The engine can produce 191.3kN of thrust afterburner. It is the successor of F119-PW-100 turbofan engine. It is equipped with full authority digital engine control, a gearbox, and health and usage monitoring system.

A shaft-driven LiftFan propulsion system built by Rolls-Royce is incorporated at the aft of F-35B's cockpit to accomplish the STOVL capabilities. Doors fitted above and below the vertical fan open as the fin spins up for vertical lift of the aircraft. The counter-rotating LiftFan produces more than 20,000lb of thrust with the help of the gas turbine.

Three-bearing swivelling exhaust nozzle is appended by two roll control ducts on the inboard section of the wing. The engine combined with the vertical LiftFan renders the requisite STOVL capability.

The length and diameter of the engine are 5.5m and 1.3m respectively. The inlet diameter is 1.1m.

Performance

The F-35B can fly at a maximum speed of 1,960km/h. The combat radius and maximum range of the aircraft are 833km and 1,667km respectively.

Armaments

The F-35B is fitted with a 25mm GAU-22A Gatling cannon which has 220 rounds per gun of firing capacity. It has two internal weapon pods and four external underwing hardpoints to expand its mission lethality.

The aircraft can carry 6,803kg of weaponry payload. It is equipped with AIM-120C AMRAAM medium range air to air missiles, air to surface missiles, two GBU-32 JDAM guided bombs, six GBU-38 bombs and munitions dispensers.

Countermeasures and radars

The F-35B is equipped with AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) multi-functional radar built by Northrop Grumman. It also houses AN/AAQ-37 Distributed Aperture System (DAS), Barracuda AN/ASQ-239 electronic warfare system, Multifunction Advanced Data Link (MADL) communication system and missile warning system.

F-35B STVOL orders and deliveries

Customer orders of the F-35B include USMC (340) and Italian Navy (22). The UK ordered two F-35Bs in 2009. The third F-35B was ordered by the UK Government in January 2010. The UK Ministry of Defence plans to procure up to 138 F-35Bs for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy.


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