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‘Legally Copied’ By Lockheed Martin

Because the F-35 stealth jets could confront Russian fighters at some point in Europe, the aircraft and design were a direct derivative of a former Soviet project that could not be completed when the communist superpower collapsed – the Yakovlev Yak-141 .

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The Short/Vertical Take-Off and Landing (SVTOL) F-35B naval variant could be called a direct derivative of the Yak-141.

The Russian company had turned to Lockheed Martin in 1991 after the dissolution of the USSR to fund about $350 million as a weakened Russia sought to normalize ties with Washington.

It is reflected in the single vectoring nozzle behind the center of gravity and special vertically positioned thrust jets just behind the Yak-141’s engine shared by the F-35B.

The Yakovlev Yak-141 at the 1992 Farnborough Airshow

Design began in 1975 after the Soviet Navy contracted Yakovlev to develop a VTOL aircraft capable of fleet air defense. Led by the famous aviation designer Alexander Yakovlev and his impressive Yak 141, they almost did. The remarkable machine had four prototypes and broke several world records.

At the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, the British Hawker Siddeley Harrier, in both its land and naval versions, was a famous fighter.

The Soviet Union first created the Yakovlev Yak-36′ Freehand’ with four prototypes. The Yak 38 ‘Forger’ eventually went into production and served the Soviet Navy with over 200 units.

Nevertheless, the model was limited in its payload and overall performance. This was partly because Yakovlev’s aircraft designer and manufacturer always viewed the Yak-38 as a step in the development of an advanced VTOL aircraft.

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Design

The Soviet Navy wanted the new VTOL aircraft to make up for the shortcomings of the Yak-38 – sustained supersonic speed, maneuverability, agility, radar and weapon payloads.

With unprecedented engineering challenges in the design, more than ten chief engineers were pushed onto the job. The challenge was to both deliver supersonic performance and maintain vector thrust.

Engineers eventually adopted a single-engine configuration, because an engine lost during landing would immediately lead to sideways roll in twin-engine designs. For example, designers eventually settled for a single vector in the nozzle behind the center of gravity.

Dedicated vertical thrust jets were also placed aft of the cockpit. The forward thrust and lift, on the other hand, was a rear jet that pivoted up and down to 90 degrees for VTOL maneuvers—an arrangement later seen on the F-35B.

The airframe is designed around a single engine concept with a circular nozzle between twin booms, supporting the signature twin fin tail on either side of the engine installation.

The remaining sections of the Yak-4 shared features with other famous Soviet jets such as the Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-25 and MiG-31. These were a plate side forward fuselage with rectangular air intakes and the small area wings were truncated with a distinct sweep along their leading edges.

The wings can also be folded to facilitate storage of the carrier. Essential parts were also manufactured in titanium, as the excessive heat from the engines during landing was expected to damage the fuselage. The non-critical ones were supplemented with composites or graphite.

The hover time was also limited to two and a half minutes to prevent overheating. The engines behind the cockpit, intended for VTOL operations, were covered with dorsal flaps. They supplied the engines with air as the exhaust flew down to the belly and through an opening covered by two ventral doors.

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The main power unit was a Soyuz R-79V-300 turbofan engine capable of 1088 kilograms of dry thrust and 15,500 kilograms of power with an afterburner. The lift engines behind the cockpit were RD-41 turbojets, each with a thrust of 4,218 kilograms.

Performance

The maiden flight took place on March 9, 1987, and the first attempt to hover was successfully attempted two years later, on December 29, 1989.

On June 13, 1990, the final prototype achieved its first full transition from vertical to high-speed flight to a vertical landing. Finally, on September 26, 1991, the first vertical landing on an aircraft carrier was accomplished aboard the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov.

The aircraft displayed excellent combat maneuvers, high responsiveness and kinematic performance for a fighter aircraft of its time. It could reach a maximum speed of Mach 1.4 (1120 miles per hour), a ferry range of 1,865 miles and the service range was 1,300 miles.

The service ceiling well exceeded 50,000 thousand feet, while the rate of climb was 48,215 feet per minute.

Lockheed Martin-Yakovlev Design Bureau Team Up

An accident on October 5, 1991 severely damaged one of the prototypes. After a hard landing, the plane ruptured a fuel tank and was set on fire when the pilot was ejected after 30 seconds and rescued safely from the sea.

And just a few months before the USSR collapsed, the Soviet Navy announced that there was no money left to continue with the program. Final series production variants with advanced avionics and Leading Edge Root Extensions (LERX) could never be realized.

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Suffering from acute economic distress, Yakovlev Design Bureau was now looking for cold hard cash. And this is where US defense giant Lockheed Martin came in and put billions of dollars into the program.

An agreement between the two was signed in 1991, which was only made public in 1995. The fact that the Yak-141 never went into series production despite Lockheed’s infusion means that his interest was solely in the vital test data of development and flight – to understand the “knowing why” behind the technology.

This 1993 document from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) admits that access to Soviet VTOL technology was critical to the United States: “Military hardware that had once been highly classified and the basis for our defense planning was now openly marketed at air shows around the world… This environment allowed a visit to the Yakovlev Design Bureau (YAK) for a technology assessment for vertical/short takeoff and landing (VSTOL). Yakovlev is the only design bureau of the FSU with experience in VSTOL aircraft and has developed two flying examples, the YAK-38 ‘Forger’ and YAK-141′ Freestyle’.”

Born from the Yak-141, the F-35 will likely spearhead any combat operation against Russia or China. History didn’t repeat itself until 20 years later when it turned out that the Chinese J-20 had borrowed heavily from the F-35 through cyber espionage and hacking.

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