Vertical challenges

Photo: USMC


‘All tactical aircraft should possess a short/vertical takeoff and landing capability as soon as it is technically feasible without sacrificing existing mission capabilities,’ said Gen Randolph Pate, Commandant, US Marine Corps in 1957. Today’s Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II has come a long way since the early days of Vertical/Short Take-Off and Landing (V/STOL). Though the F-35B has its origins in the early 1990s, you have to go much further back for the genesis of the concept that led to its creation, writes Joe Copalman in Combat Aircraft November issue, on sale now.

In 1957, Gen Pate put forth a requirement that — as soon as the technology could support it — Marine tactical aviation (TACAIR) was to become an all-V/STOL force. Some 60 years later, with the F-35B replacing the Hornet, Harrier II, and Prowler in Marine Corps service, it appears Pate’s vision is finally being implemented. The road leading to the F-35B is long, with the first practical steps being taken towards it coming in the late 1960s, when the Marine Corps decided to procure the Hawker Siddeley Harrier from Great Britain.

Copalman looks back at the AV-8A Harrier, the US Marine Corps’ first step towards an all V/STOL tactical air force in the first of a two-part series.

The first USMC Harrier squadron was VMA-513 ‘Flying Nightmares’ at MCAS Beaufort. Lt Gen (ret’d) Harry Blot was among the original Harrier cadre at the unit. With his seniority and test background, much of the task of establishing AV-8A TTPs fell to him. Blot explained: ‘When I was assigned to ‘513’, the CO tasked me with writing the NATOPS and the tactics manual for the AV-8A. In the meantime, Headquarters Marine Corps tasked me with developing thrust vectoring [tactics] and they had hired McDonnell Douglas to help with all this. [Their] book-writing section was taking all the English manuals they had and converting them into ‘American.’ My job was to make sure they got what we wanted in there, so I had to help write both of those.’

Read the full story including incredible from-the-cockpit accounts, in our November issue. Out now.

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