Indian Air Force

Understanding Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL)

Hello defence lovers! In this article, we are going to discuss a very interesting topic. Ever wondered how convenient it would be if fighter jets could take off just like the helicopter? Then we would not need any runway. Luckily few wise engineers thought this before us and discovered a technology that we call vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). In this article, we are going to discuss Vertical take-off and landing it. We will also discuss why and when it is used, which aircraft are VTOL capable, and its drawbacks.

Vertical Take-Off and Landing

vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft have the capability to hover, take off, and land vertically. This classification can include various aircraft types including fixed-wing aircraft as well as helicopters and other aircraft with powered rotors, such as cyclogyros/cyclocopters and tiltrotors. Some VTOL aircraft can operate in other modes as well, such as CTOL (conventional take-off and landing), STOL (short take-off and landing), or STOVL (short take-off and vertical landing). In this article, we will only focus on fixed-wing VTOL aircraft.

VTOL is a very tricky technology for fixed-wing aircraft. It was an engineering challenge to make an aircraft that could take off vertically like a helicopter and then land vertically. There are very few successful examples of fixed-wing aircraft which are VTOL capable. These are the Sea Harrier, the Yak 38 and the F 35 B. All the aircraft use different methods for taking off vertically. The harrier uses a giant single engine with 4 thrust vectoring nozzles. The Yak 38 used altogether a different approach. It used 3 engines, 2 exclusively used for VTOL. The F 35 uses a large single-engine powering an additional fan for VTOL and thrust vectoring nozzle.

VTOL comes with many tradeoffs. First of all, during vertical take-off, there is no wing flowing over the control surfaces thus making them useless. To control the yaw, pitch and roll the VTOL aircraft have their own arrangements. Highly skilled pilots are required for VTOL operations as the process is very complex and simple errors can lead to fatal accidents. Moreover, the Vertical takeoff process consumes a lot more fuel than conventional takeoffs, thus whenever possible the aircraft practice short take-off and vertical landing. VTOL fighters are most suitable for carrier-borne operations.

Sea Harrier

Sea harrier is perhaps the most successful example of fixed-wing VTOL aircraft. Sea Harrier or only Harrier has been produced by many companies around the Globe. Initially, it was developed by British Aviation company Hawker Siddeley. Later it was manufactured by BAE systems and McDonell Douglas. This majestic aircraft has served many countries which are Britain, America, India, Spain, and Italy. The original Sea Harrier has served both the Royal Navy and the Indian Navy for over three decades. The original version was extensively used in the Falkland War where it scored 20+ confirmed kills. The American version which is still in service today was extensively used in both the gulf wars. It is even today operated from the Wasp-class aircraft carriers of the United stated Marine corp and similar aircraft carriers of Italy and Spain. It saw tremendous success in carrier-borne operations. It was the primary aircraft of the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers INS Vikrant and INS Virat.

Yakovlev Yak-38

The Yakolev Yak 38 was the Soviet answer to the Western Sea Harrier. If not better, it was equivalent to the capabilities of the BAE Sea Harrier. But unlike the sea harrier, Yak 38 used separate engines for vertical take-off and landing. The Soviets produced a large number of these aircraft and deployed them over their Kiev class carriers. (Note INS Vikramaditya is modified Kiev class carrier converted into STOBAR from VTOL). This was the only other VTOL aircraft in the cold war era which we can call a successful project. On 16 December 1982, a pair of armed Yak-38s operating from Minsk intercepted aircraft from the U.S. carrier Enterprise over the Arabian Sea. This event marked the first time Soviet VTOL aircraft intercepted American aircraft while armed with missiles.

F 35 B

F 35 is a fifth-generation fighter that is being developed by a consortium of many international partners. Primarily it was developed for the US airforce and Navy but lack of funds forced the US to invite other partners as well. One variant of f35 called the F 35 B is capable of VTOL operations. But primarily it is a STOVL aircraft. It is used primarily by the US marine corps and the Royal Navy.

Why VTOL Is Not Used In Every Aircraft?

VTOL fighters are engineering challenges. These are very complex to design and operate. Moreover, the VTOL method is very inefficient and consumes a lot more fuel than conventional takeoff. Also, the VTOL comes with the tradeoff with maneuverability. Thus VTOL may be good for ground attack and anti-ship roles but it’s not suitable for air superiority roles. Very skilled pilots are required to fly these fighters as controlling these fighters is not easy. Thus if there are no constraints with runway length, conventional fighters are always preferred over VTOL fighters.

So this was all about the Vertical Take-Off and Landing technology. Follow our website to know more about such interesting aviation and military technologies.


Sheershoo Deb

I am a defense aspirant preparing to be an officer in the prestigious Indian armed forces. Earning the prestigious blue uniform is my dream.

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