These Jets Can Hover Like Helicopters, Here's How They Work

Engineering a jet plane to take off and land vertically is no easy feat, but some designs have managed to pull it off. Here's how they work.

I think we can all agree that fighter jets are pretty sweet. But sweet as they are, almost all of them still lack one amazing feature of their whirlygig helicopter cousins; the ability to hover. Come on, it's 2017 people, where are the hovering jets?

The problem is a fundamental one. You can think of the rotors of a helicopter as wings. They're constantly moving through the air, generating lift, even when the chopper is hovering in place.  But jets, with their airfoils fixed in place, need to keep moving forward. If they don't go fast enough their wings don't generate enough lift, and the jet is essentially a very expensive rock.

But there is a way around this. Why bother using the wings at all? Heck you've got a mighty jet engine underneath you, just point it at the ground and blast off!

Over the years engineers have tried a few different approaches, but the most successful idea was to use thrust vectoring,  like on the Boeing AV-8B Harrier II. The Harrier's engine has four nozzles that can swivel. They can be pointed downward for vertical takeoff, landing, and hovering. Or they can be pointed backwards,  and the Harrier flies like any other jet. That doesn't mean all the problems are solved.

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