The Real Life Sci-Fi of Vertical Take-Off Planes

The Real Life Sci-Fi of Vertical Take-Off Planes


This episode of Real Engineering is brought
to you by Brilliant.org a problem solving website that helps you think like an engineer. The sight of a 9.4 tonne plane slowly rise
off the ground, balancing precariously on 4 columns of air over the rough water of Galway
bay, is the closest to sci-fi alien technology I have ever seen in my life. An inspiring sight that seeded an obsession
with aviation technology. The harrier was the culmination of decades
of bizarre experimentation to eliminate the planes greatest weakness, it’s need for
a runway to both land and takeoff. This fascinating technology has one of the
richest histories in aviation with roots in both the lunar lander and outlandish WW2 era
German sketches. Both the Allies and the Germans used helicopters
and autogyros during this period, but using a rotor for both lift and thrust inherently
trades off speed. The German’s dreamed of a plane capable
of taking off from anywhere, eliminating the need for tactically vulnerable airstrips,
without sacrificing speed or dogfight capabilities. Inspired by their ballistic missile program,
which still lacked effective guidance programs to accurate target allied aircraft, Erich
Bachem developed the tail-sitting rocket powered BP-349, which would allow the pilot to take
control of the plane in it’s final stages of flight to guide it to it’s target and
unleash it’s barrage of smaller rockets before ejecting to safety. The only manned test of this aircraft resulted
in the death of the test pilot and the idea was abandoned, but that didn’t stopped the
Germans in their pursuit of VTOL aircraft. Next up was an even more bizarre tail sitting
aircraft that featured 3 giant propellor blades each powered by ram-jets at their tips, this
would function similar to a helicopter for take off and then transition to forward flight
and use the blades like a giant propellor, but it would require a nose-up position to
achieve adequate lift, as it didn’t have any wings. Unsurprisingly this didn’t make it passed
basic wind tunnel testing, but could well have inspired the Lockheed XFV and Convair
XFV Pogo planes in the 1950s which used massive counter-rotating turbo-propellers. The Lockheed version only ever managed to
hover for a brief moment while transitioning from horizontal flight to an upwards vertical
flight, but the Convair XFV Pogo flown by Lieutenant Colonel James Coleman became the
first aircraft in history to successful fly in both forward aerodynamic flight and in
hover. Ultimately both planes were cancelled due
the difficulty in flying them, and their lack of speed and lack of lifting power. Engines for propellor driven aircraft were
simply not powerful enough yet. To achieve necessary lift the rotors would
need to increase velocity or diameter, which would decrease the max horizontal speed of
the aircraft as the tip-speeds of the blades would rise, meaning the tips of the blades
could easily break the sound barrier and cause all kinds of problems. This problem and how the incredibly versatile
V-22 Osprey solved it needs a video by itself to explain the nuanced design of helicopters
and their speed limits, but for now you will just need to trust me that it’s a difficult
problem to solve. And with the advent of powerful jet-engines,
the problem was largely solved without the need for large propellers. The first craft to use jet propulsion for
vertical lift was the Rolls-Royce Thrust Measuring Rig, aptly nicknamed the flying bedstead,
for it’s obvious departure from the bird like designs of the past. This configuration largely influenced the
design of the Lunar Lander training vehicle that NASA developed for Neil Armstrong and
other astronauts to practice with. They mounted the engine on a gimbal to ensure
it’s thrust always pointed directly downwards and only provided enough lift to simulate
the moon’s gravity, while hydrogen peroxide rockets were used for control. Neil Armstrong attributed the success of his
difficult landing on the moon to this ingenious training vehicle. The lessons learned through early research
craft like these provided Rolls-Royce with the knowledge required to develop the Rolls-Royce
Pegasus engine, which powers the Harrier. This engine needed to have enough thrust to
lift the entire weight of the plane, the designers of the plane made this job easier by utilizing
carbon-fibre composites for much aircrafts structures to save weight, making the Harrier
one of the first planes to use these materials. Yet the job of designing a single engine capable
of providing enough vertical thrust was still difficult, and the resulting engine is pretty
unique as a result. The engine is similar to a traditional jet
engine in that it consists of a low pressure compressor fan, a high pressure compressor,
a combustion chamber, a high pressure turbine and a low pressure turbine. Where it differs radically is the engine outlet
is not one large opening, but split into four where the first 2 nozzles duct some of the
air coming from the low pressure compressor and the final two duct air from the higher
pressure turbines. [2]
Because the air bleeding from the low pressure compressor system has less force than the
high pressure nozzles, the low pressure nozzles need to be placed further from the planes
centre of gravity than the high pressure nozzles. This balances the plane along the length of
the plane, but in vertical take-off mode there is no air-flowing over the wings to provide
force for the control surfaces. So the plane needs a way of controlling it’s
roll, pitch and yaw in vertical takeoff mode, and so the plane features nozzles that bleed
air from the engine on the nose, tail and wing tips. This control system is not as reliable as
aerodynamic lift, which is largely self correcting when disturbances occurs, although fighters
tend to purposely decrease stability to increase maneuverability, which requires a computer
to constantly monitor, but the disturbances due to ground effect from the air from it’s
own jet can cause oscillations that overwhelm this control system, and with no accurate
way of correcting them, they could grow until the plane inverts and lands on the cockpit,
which has killed pilots on several occasions. So pilots often dropped the plane heavily
from a few metres above the ground before the oscillations could take hold, which obviously
wasn’t ideal for the landing gear [3] The harrier was also disadvantaged to conventional
aircraft as the vertical takeoff mode it was severely limited in max take-off weight and
burnt off much of it’s fuel in this intensive maneuver, reducing it’s range too. So most Harrier take offs take place only
as partial vertical take-off,where the plane would accelerate on the runway like a conventional
plane to achieve some lift from the wings and then angle the nozzles to achieve the
final lift needed to safely take off on the shorter runways of aircraft carriers. The plane could then land vertically without
wasting as much fuel later on when the weight of the aircraft had reduced through use of
it’s fuel and armaments. This takes it’s max take-off weight from
9,415 kg to 14,100 kg, which is still lackluster when comparing to their fellow Marine aircraft
like the F/A-18 hornet that has a max take-off weight of 23,541 kg and a maximum speed of
1.8 compared to the harriers subsonic, 0.9. Make it a much more capable attack platform,
but the hornet is only capable of launching from large carriers, whereas the Harrier can
launch from amphibious assault ships like the USS America. The Harrier has even managed to land on a
cargo ship when it’s pilot lost radio contact with his crew and ran out of fuel. But both of these fighters are slated to be
replaced by the controversial F-35, which will be capable of VTOL, thanks to incredible
directional rear thrust and shaft driven lift fan. This fighter improves on much of the technology
that the Harrier laid the ground for while including futuristic VR helmets allowing the
pilot to see through their own plane using the 6 infrared cameras surrounding the plane,
advanced laser targeting and radar capabilities, all the while incorporating stealth technology. The plane has been deeply entrenched in US
politics, raking up huge development costs and supporting thousands of American jobs,
it has been delayed again and again, largely due to its ambitious technological leap over
it older counterparts. Should it finally reach service it will become
the most advanced plane in the history of mankind. Each advancement like this is built upon the
foundations of physics that humankind has learned over the course of our existence. If you would like to flex your physics knowledge
and learn more about the principles of the universe upon which these machines are built. I highly suggest you check out Brilliant.org. Brilliant is a problem solving website that
teaches you how to think like an engineer. You can dive in and start learning about a
huge range of topics starting from basic physics and working your way up to more complicated
topics. For an example, check out their course on
classical mechanics, one of the most important subjects in mechanical engineering. The first 200 people to sign up with this
link will get 20% off their annual premium subscription
I get to learn and solve these kind of problems for a living and I love it. It gives me that warm glowy feeling inside
when I finally conquer a difficult problem. Actively challenging your brain on a daily
basis and getting that endorphin rush of a job well done is great for your mental health. Brilliant even have an app where you can challenge
yourself on the go, I have even been guilty of pulling out their puzzles section to challenge
my friends while out for a pint. As usual, thanks for watching and thank you
to all my Patreon supporters. I just uploaded a new episode of Showmakers
with special guest, Grant from 3blue1brown. The link to that is on screen now and the
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80 thoughts on “The Real Life Sci-Fi of Vertical Take-Off Planes”

  1. About to get on a flight to film a video with Alec Steele, so won't be able to reply for a while. Follow the journey on https://www.instagram.com/brianjamesmcmanus/. Thanks to Brilliant for sponsoring, delighted they decided to continue working with me. https://brilliant.org/realengineering/

  2. from what I know, I worked on a harrier and next door to lockheed's development hanger in Fort worth. the max load for a f-35(marine version) is still way under weight. I think at the moment it can only support 2 250 lbs bombs. there are no such munitions in the us arsenal. someone correct me if I'm wrong

  3. Technological advancements are built on suffering and loss from those with less means. It's about time we loose the ego and acknowledge western lifestyles are built on dominating the less fortunate.
    Where does the cobalt used in the batteries of this smart come from, the USA, Europe, Australia?

  4. Science is like a treadmill mother nature has control of. Science creates a solution, then mother natures increases the speed of the treadmill. Science overcomes the speed, mother nature increases the speed – repeat.
    Humans dies of communicate disease the science cured these diseases. Now we in the west die of NCD's 🤷‍♀️

  5. Great to see Marvel use the Focke-Wolf Triebflugel in Captain America: The First Avenger. Didn’t realize this was an actual Nazi plane design that they used as Red Skulls mode of flight transportation.

  6. This video is misleading. I am no expert, but the lashback at the F 35 was presented in this form to the public in a publicity war kind of style. Because it was proposed as a jack-of-all-trades fighter/ground assault craft and Congress wanted get rid of planes like the A 10 Warthog when U.S. forces are still waging operations requiring close ground support. Replacing a specialized plane with a jack-of-all trades craft limited usability and effectiveness. The U.S.A. had to bring back prop planes to provide ground support due to the cost, the time an aircraft had to circle the battlefield, and the terrain in the theaters of operation like Afghanistan. These are environments wherest Special Forces have fought on horseback because the terrain is too rough for specialized vehicles and Congress wants to get rid of the specialized aircraft that support our troops in these places at a time when the fight is still going on. There was a horrible cry of anger. At least, that was the way the story was sold to me, a civilian.

  7. Ima bout to mine blow you. The cold nozzles (front) provide more thrust then the hot nozzles (back). Also the center of mass is abit more forward than you think draw a straight line through the center of the bomb racks to find it.

  8. I love the atomic age! Stuff built back then was inefficient and simplistic in comparison to modern tech, but damn the designs had character and were in a way almost soulful.

  9. Am the only one why gets freaked out when a harrier does it shit.
    Because they can do shit like go sidewise have hover. It's just not right

  10. They don't use fuel now they use compressed air that converts into Nitrogen the passenger jets also use the same free energy they float like bee's when the giant engines oscillate due to the blades that are carefully placed and spaced so as to cause a vibration that separates the nitro from the oxygen hum

  11. My issue with the F-35 is the want to replace the A-10. Like, sure the F-35 is a technology marvel, but why give something so fragile no support? A-10 flies forever when damaged, a pin might destroy an F-35.

  12. Amazing engineering… Entirely obsolete. Meaning jets of course not helicopters or utility planes. Sacrifices for vertical takeoff against performance in the sky is vastly to great.

  13. I'm surprised YouTube hasn't banned these videos for violations of terms of service… This is just wayyyyy to much factual information

  14. 1:06 chances are, this photo is fake. The nazis/Germany did not allow insignia on disposable aircraft, which this rocket plane was, so any image of this aircraft with proper German Luftwaffe insignia on it are most likely fake.

  15. They need to inject water into the exhaust to maintain vertical thrust and they have to be very low on fuel for full vertical takeoff or landing … The Harrier is obsolete

  16. The F-35 will not be the most advanced plane in the history of mankind. It sucks at aerial dog fights and will never equal the F-18 or F-15. That's because the body shape of the F-35 is cumbersome and overweight.

  17. Ok, so obviously you can't just get technical data from the F-35 program to comment on how one of the models is a VTOL that seems to surpass at least some of the limitations of the Harrier. But as much as it is easy to hate on the F-35 program for the political stuff behind it and it effectively "stealing away from" the F-22 program that may be superior as an actual fighter aircraft, you have to admit that they did come up with some good stuff in the end to be able to do what it does.

    Yes, don't get me wrong. Given the videos of the F-35 making such manuevers on youtube, I would not ever want to actually land one vertically if I got hit during a mission. There is just too many parts that have to move, and too many panels of armor/airframe that open up (to where some of the earlier transformers toys have fewer rotating/translating parts), that I would just be too paranoid that some puncture holes through one of them might have jammed it in place or prevent it from fully reaching its intended VTOL-mode angle. And if I make it back from a mission, I at least already know that it can fly forward, after all.

    Now, if we go into the sci-fi realm a bit and say that there were net-positive fusion reactors small enough for fighter jets (Lockheed is working on one that MIGHT fit on a 747, so even if theirs works it would still be difficult to get one small enough for fighters), then we could probably simplify the VTOL design thanks to the comparative lightness of electrical engines (which would let you just use a bunch of such engines dedicated to vertical lift and hidden in the airframe, while having a different proper forward-intended engine or engines used for thrust). This, however brings us to the relative lack of high power electrical engines currently designed. Namely, the seeming lack of something like a supersonic jet engine that is designed to run just on electricity. Yes, you could use the waste heat from the fusion reactor too (potentially getting rid of some more of it by using the wings as heat radiators too, which yes, is why I laugh at anyone who says "sci-fi spacecraft shouldn't have wings"), if that's your power source, but one must wonder what the best way to design the shape of such an engine's internals.

  18. I'm a design engineer for fighter jets and I also designed for sea harrier.
    Well, I believe that its totally underdesigned aircraft. Indian Navy has almost Decommissioned all the Sea harrier from their warships.
    but must say it was one of the greatest oldschool aircraft.

  19. BTW if it was on a us carrier it could possible be hooked up to the catapult launcher like F14 tomcats . The Harrier's mainly operated from LHD (Landing helicopter deck) that do not have catapult's or on the British aircraft carriers that are smaller and they take off like normal jets but angle the thrusters like the video describes but they go up the weird ramp thing that gives them lift so they don't plummet into the ocean.

  20. I fuking pressed pause not your next stupid fuking recommended bullshit about the newest vertical lift plane WTF I searched old ww2 vertical lift are you that FUKIN Dumb .

  21. Everyone is mentioning all these British inventions while the us is over here with nuclear powered aircraft carriers and subs, and not to mention WE WENT TO THE FRICKING MOON

  22. I have completed VTOL while sitting on the toilet after a night of cheap beer and hot-wings. Probably not as thrilling as in a Harrier though….

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