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The F-35 Lighting II is the latest addition to the USAF’s fighter jet arsenal. At around $100million per plane, they don’t come cheap (though the US government has ordered around 2500 of them…) – but in the modern world, air superiority is key in warfare, and a large fleet of cutting-edge fighter jets is one way to ensure your military might.

How cutting-edge? One of the new models, the F-35B, will be the first operational jet fighter to be supersonic in speed, able to avoid detection via stealth technologies, but also be capable of short take-offs and vertical landing (STOVL).

Interestingly, a new paper on arXiv (“Avrocar: a real flying saucer“) points out that the STOVL capability of the F-35B has its origin in an experimental ‘flying saucer’ vehicle developed by the USAF more than 50 years ago, the ‘Avrocar’:

One of the most unusual military V/STOL aircraft programs was the Avro VZ-9 “Avrocar”. Designed to be a real flying saucer, the Avrocar was one of the few V/STOL to be developed in complete secrecy. Despite significant changes in the design, during flight tests, the Avrocar was unable to achieve its objectives, and the program was eventually canceled after an expenditure of 10 million US dollars between 1954 and 1961.

[However] the concept of ground effect produced by a fan at takeoff and landing did not die with the Avrocar. In 1963, Bell Aerospace initiated studies of a landing system for air mattress (ACLS), which was later patented. These studies were directed by the former head of Avrocar project, Desmond T. Conde. The Avrocar also ended up producing the prototype Boeing YC-14 and McDonnell Douglas YC-15. The latter was adopted and evolved into the Boeing C-17 transport, which went into series production. This concept lives today as a key component of Lockheed X-35 Joint Strike Fighter contender.

Here’s some video of the Avrocar in action:

What inspired the USAF to explore the ‘flying saucer’ design of the Avrocar? Did it arise out of the flying saucer craze that was at its height in the 1950s? Or was the design more to do with the circular nature of the fan system?

In any case, we can at least now proudly take off our tin-foil hats, and safely state that the U.S. military’s latest jet fighters rely on flying saucer technology…

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