In other countries, such machines are gradually being abandonedWith the advent of the first jet aircraft, mankind began to think about the possibility of creating aircraft with the function of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL).
In the 1950s, the development of jet and turboprop aircraft engines reached a level where vertical takeoff and landing of aircraft became theoretically possible.
The further spread of jet fighters in the air Forces of advanced countries with a new force actualized the theme of the development of VTOL. First of all, the military was interested in promising technology. Interestingly, the Western military dreamed of creating not so much VTOL fighters as bombers. As a result, the 1960s and 1970s became a period of "vertical fever", first in the military, and then in the civil aircraft industry.
WORLD EXPERIENCEThe first countries to develop VTOL aircraft rushed to the NATO bloc, which at that time had a developed aviation industry: the United States, Great Britain and France.
Initially, Western engineers worked on a variety of concepts of vertical takeoff. For example, one of them was the "take-off from the tail" scheme, when a jet plane was launched like a rocket. The most significant examples of full-fledged VTOL aircraft of the first generation were the American F-104G, the French Mirage IIIV, the British-German P.1150, the West German VJ-101, the Dutch-American D-24, the Italian G-95.
The Soviet Union was in the position of catching up. In 1964, the not-so-successful Yak-36 made its first flight. Although the first pancake turned out to be a lump, later the experience of the Yak-36 was used to create a very successful Yak-38, which successfully fought in Afghanistan. This machine was used by the Russian and Ukrainian Air Forces until the early 2000s.
In addition to the Yak-38, several more successful cars were presented to the world – both in the "red" and in the "blue" military-political bloc. For example, in the USSR, the Yak-141 was created, the project of which in 1992 buried only the collapse of the country and the collapse of the economy.
Meanwhile, in the UK, perhaps the most successful military VTOL has been created to date – the Sea Harrier carrier-based fighter-bomber. If the Yak-38 was baptized by fire in Afghanistan, then the Harrier performed well in the Falklands War of 1982.
SUNSET OF TECHNOLOGYAnd now, it would seem, there are promising developments, there are quite effective models in service, there is a successful experience of combat use.
What went wrong in the history of VTOL? Why are there almost no such planes today, and the few "oldies" that were riveted during the Cold War are slowly but surely failing?
The answer is quite simple. The problem was that in the 1980s the world was hit by an economic crisis. Therefore, VTOL programs began to be curtailed first in civil aviation, and then in the military.
For all their prospects, vertical take-off and landing planes have not only fat pluses, but also fat minuses.
The advantages are obvious: VTOL needs a runway (runway) slightly larger than itself. Such machines can hover like helicopters, turn around on the spot, drift in different directions at a minimum speed. At the same time, unlike the same helicopters, VTOL aircraft reach incomparably high maximum speeds – up to supersonic.
But there are also significant disadvantages. The disadvantages of VTOL include huge fuel consumption, the need for private runway repairs due to the rapid destruction of the coating under the influence of aircraft engines, the high complexity and cost of production / maintenance of such aircraft. There are also purely technical shortcomings in comparison with conventional combat aircraft, which remain unresolved at the current level of technology development: this is a shorter VTOL flight range and a greatly reduced combat load. Finally, another important drawback: the management of VTOL requires the training of pilots with much greater qualifications, even in comparison with the pilots of carrier-based aviation.
Thus, according to the totality of factors, VTOL remains out of business in most countries today. Although no country with a developed aircraft industry has completely abandoned the concept of such aircraft. In Britain, the remnants of the Harrier third model are still in operation. In the United States, the F-35B VTOL aircraft are in service with the Marine Corps air units.
In addition, there are countries where this technology is given the closest attention. For example, China.
VTOL FROM CHINADespite the success of the Chinese aviation industry, Chinese strategists publicly admit that the national Armed Forces lack VTOL.
For example, the press of the USA and Japan reports on the intensification of work in China on the development of VTOL type "Jian-18".
According to preliminary estimates, the radius of combat use of the VTOL being developed is about 2 thousand km. It is assumed that it will be equipped with a radar with an active phased array antenna (AFAR), and during the construction of the aircraft, technologies will be used to reduce the visibility of the Stealth aircraft in every possible way. Japanese military analysts claim that the level of development of the Chinese VTOL in some areas is already ahead of the tactical and technical characteristics (TTX) of individual aircraft of the fourth generation.
However, the main problem for the Chinese aviation industry remains equipping products with appropriate engines – since modern Chinese engine building cannot provide a reliable engine of national production. Previously, this issue was planned to be solved by importing technologies, but the plans were not allowed to come true.
BORROWING SOMEONE ELSE'S EXPERIENCEThe first glimmer of China's interest in vertical or shortened takeoff (STOVL) aircraft dates back to the late 1970s, when an unsuccessful attempt was made to purchase a British carrier-based aircraft of the Harrier type.
In 1996, a British collector of rare aircraft equipment exchanged a decommissioned Harrier GR3 from his collection for a Soviet propeller fighter provided in return by the Chinese side. Harrier was thoroughly studied by specialists of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, who regularly carried out commissioned research in the interests of the Armed Forces of the People's Republic of China.
In the late 1990s, simultaneously with the decommissioned aircraft-carrying cruisers, China purchased several Yak-38 VTOL aircraft from Russia for detailed study.
At the end of 2003, China acquired in Ukraine a test aircraft T-10K-7 from the installation batch of prototypes of the Su-33 carrier-based fighter, released in 1990 for factory tests at the NITKA complex. The aircraft was exported to China in order to study the technical features of the deck version of the Su-27 – the design of the folding wing, reinforced landing gear, brake hook, as well as radio equipment used for landing on an aircraft carrier and takeoffs from the deck. In addition, the Ukrainian side handed over documentation on the strength tests that were performed on this T-10K at the Research Institute of Aeroelastic Systems (Feodosia, Crimea).
Having gained their own experience in the production of Jian-11 fighters (based on the Russian Su-27SK fighter), Chinese engineers may well use the results of research on design features to create their own VTOL.
THE ROLE OF VTOL IN CHINA'S MILITARY STRATEGYUntil recently, the development of VTOL was not among the priorities of the Celestial Empire.
However, now that China has become the owner of the Liaoning and Shandong aircraft carriers (and in the future, the Fujian nuclear aircraft carrier), this project is being talked about again.
According to the Chinese Navy command, the capabilities of a small aircraft wing of aircraft carriers of national production in the event of a hypothetical conflict will be severely limited, since in addition to long-range sorties, aircraft will have to perform tasks to ensure the air defense of an aircraft carrier strike group. Several VTOL-type fighters could significantly increase the combat capabilities of aircraft carriers without taking up much space on the upper deck and in the hangar.
Chinese military experts believe that in the near future there is little chance that China will take part in hostilities far from the coast. Rather, Beijing will be involved in a local conflict with amphibious operations directly in its own or nearby territorial waters.
The VTOL-type fighter is best suited for such types of combat operations. Even a poorly equipped runway will be useful for receiving such aircraft.
Military observers of the People's Republic of China emphasize that such aircraft can be placed not only on aircraft carriers, but also on aircraft-carrying universal amphibious assault ships (UDC) of project 075 with a displacement of about 40 thousand tons, comparable in terms of TTX with American counterparts.
The absence of a Jian-18 type VTOL in China significantly reduces the ability of amphibious forces to independently conduct large amphibious operations – primarily due to insufficient capabilities for air support of troops ashore.
To solve this problem, the option of joint use of the UDC with aircraft carriers under construction (at least six units by 2030) is not excluded.
CONCLUSIONS AND GENERALIZATIONSThe idea of vertical take-off and landing of aircraft still does not let go of the minds of designers.
Moreover, in the XX century, quite tangible successes were achieved in this area. However, in the current economic conditions and with the current level of technical development, VTOL is unlikely to say a new word to the world. At the same time, it is still too early to call vertical take-off and landing aircraft a "dead-end branch of development".
For the development of VTOL, the Chinese military industry has to overcome many technological and technical difficulties. But experts express confidence that she is capable of such a task, since the principles of this technology have been known for a long time – they have been for more than forty years.
Such an aircraft will actually be able to enter service with the Air Force / Navy of the People's Republic of China only after 2027. The first results of the development of the Chinese-made Jian–18 VTOL can be demonstrated at one of the annual Chinese military parades dedicated to the Day of the Formation of the People's Republic of China - October 1. However, the lack of scientific and technical groundwork in the PRC in this area of aircraft construction pushes this moment.
Vasily IvanovVasily Ivanovich Ivanov is a journalist.