A thread for helicopters, choppers, copters, helos, thopters, whirlybirds, eggbeaters, gyroplanes, slicks, autogyros, gyrocopters, ornithopters and other non-fixed-wing aerodromes.
Our first topic: Attack helicopters. They are undoubtedly awesome, but in a large-scale conventional war, will they be resilient enough to have a presence on the battlefield?
Just about everyone has heard of the (in)famous F-35B VTOL aircraft, along with its predecessor the Harrier. The Soviets also dabbled in vertical takeoff aircraft throughout the latter half of the Cold War. However, did you know that during the 1960s, NATO seriously considered developing a supersonic VTOL strike fighter? It was thought that airbases would become unusable after the first hours of the war, so having a VTOL strike aircraft would allow NATO to continue striking at Soviet ground forces.
Numerous designs were proposed. One of the most sane the P.1154.
(a conceptual image of the P.1154)
The connection between the P.1154 and the Harrier (via the Kestrel prototype) is easy to see. The P.1154 was itself developed from the earlier P.1150, the original contender for the NATO strike aircraft competition. Like the Harrier, the P.1154 uses a single engine to provide thrust for both vertical takeoff and horizontal flight. This is in contrast to most designs of the era, which used dedicated lift jets. Though the P.1154 was never built, it was a major technological step in the development of VTOL aircraft.
The Mirage IIIV is clearly derived from the highly successful Mirage III airframe. However, it can be seen that lift jets have been added in the fuselage aft of the cockpit. No less than eight (!) lift jets are located in the fuselage, in addition to the single main engine. This would certainly have been a maintenance and reliability nightmare, especially in the austere environment of an ongoing (possibly nuclear) conflict. Unlike the P.1154, the Mirage IIIV actually made it to flight status, with two prototypes undergoing testing during the 1960s.
The West German VJ101 was an attempt to convert the F-104 Starfighter into a VTOL aircraft. Like the Mirage entry, the VJ101 had lift engines (two in the central fuselage). However, it also had pairs of engines in swiveling pods on the wingtips, which could vary their angle to direct thrust downward or forward (similar to the Bell D-188A. Like the IIIV, the VJ101 made it to flight, and was tested extensively (it has been claimed that the aircraft was capable of supersonic flight without afterburner). With six engines, including four in moving nacelles, the VJ101 would also have been difficult to maintain and keep active.
The G.95/6 was the Italian entry (read more about it here). It was the ultimate development of the G.95 VTOL design, which went through several iterations (the G.95/3 resembles a VTOL F-101). In terms of layout, it was closest to the Mirage IIIV, with main engines for forward thrust (two of them) augmented by multiple lift jets (six in this case). Like the other VTOL aircraft, it would have been difficult to maintain, produce and keep reliable. Additionally, like the French and German designs (and the Yak-38), it would have suffered all of the drawbacks associated with lift jets, namely that they are dead weight for 90% of the flight.
The failure of the NATO Supersonic VTOL program of the 1960s shows the difficulty in making VTOL practical for a military aircraft. It would take until the 1970s for a subsonic VTOL combat aircraft to be successful (the Harrier), and until the 2010s for a supersonic VTOL aircraft to become workable.