With the proliferation of military drones, it's easy to overlook the role of manned aircraft in modern warfare. Traditional warplanes aren't going anywhere, though, and Lockheed Martin makes a convincing case as to why. The weapons manufacturer has just released footage of its F-35B Lightning II fighter plane performing a demanding nighttime takeoff and vertical landing.
The demonstration took place on April 2 with Marine Corps Major C.R. Clift in the pilot's seat. The F-35B is currently preparing for a series of at-sea trials, and this exercise tested its capacity for abbreviated takeoffs as well as impressive vertical landings.
What makes this instance unique is that the plane has never attempted a nighttime landing before. As demonstrated in the video, Clift — and the F-35B — pulled off the maneuver with flying colors.
Lockheed Martin intends to deliver the warplanes, which are capable of taking off and landing in confined areas, to the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy. The F-35B's target takeoff and landing zones include amphibious ships and makeshift airfields.
Although vertical landing generates a tremendous amount of noise, this process has a number of combat applications. Planes typically require very long airstrips and dedicated airbases for combat operations. Vertical landing allows for smaller (or even mobile) bases, and almost completely eliminates the need for thousand-foot runways.
The F35-B is not the first plane ever to employ vertical takeoffs and landings. However, older planes with this capacity have not been in production for some time. The Harrier Jump Jet, introduced in 1969, could also perform short takeoffs and vertical landings, and found similar favor in the United States, the United Kingdom and Italy. However, production of the Harrier ended in 1997, and Lockheed Martin hopes the F-35 series will be a suitable replacement. [See also: Ten Military Aircraft that Never Made it Past the Test Phase ]
So far, the F-35B has undergone over 700 takeoffs and 380 vertical landings, and should be ready for real-world combat situations soon. "The F-35B will enable the Marine Corps to preserve its expeditionary nature and bring the next generation of war-fighting capabilities to the Joint Force," said Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, the Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation. "The first nighttime vertical landing represents the continued success of the program as well as the completion of yet another milestone towards realizing the full capabilities of the F-35B."
Issuing a content-heavy press release for a non-consumer product that's already been bought and paid for is largely a practice to reassure Congressmen that their investment has not been in vain. Since Congress can appoint many different suppliers and contractors for the production of each plane, knowing that the project is progressing is paramount. However, the F-35B is well behind schedule and costs a great deal of money to produce. Lockheed Martin's statement intends to reassure military investors that its airplane is both operating on a reasonable timetable and earning its high asking price.
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