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From: Henry Spencer <>
Subject: Re: DC-X (was Re: Foundation criticizes proposed Glenn shuttle flight)
Date: Sun, 25 Jan 1998 06:14:58 GMT

In article <6aeci9$>,
Dwayne Allen Day <> wrote:
>: > At the time, there were plenty of people ready to claim that Harrier
>: > experience was completely irrelevant to rocket-powered spaceships...
>Re the above comment--it is easy to see why some people can claim that
>Harrier is irrelevant to the issue, since there are lots of other examples
>of hovering rockets that were tested in the laboratory that were probably
>more relevant.

Actually, the people who claim the Harrier experience is irrelevant also
tend to ignore the hovering-rocket experience.  Moreover, the latter
experience is actually quite limited -- it hasn't been a common
requirement -- and it's always easy to claim that lab tests and a flying
vehicle are two different things (and there is considerable justice to
that; DC-X as a flying vehicle caused a change of attitudes which DC-X
as a lab demo never could have).

>First, while focusing on the Harrier history, you ignore much of the big
>picture.  For instance, although the RAF found the Harrier useful, it was
>not the be all and end all of aircraft design.  Indeed, they still needed
>the Tornado...

Part of the problem here is that the Harrier is still very much a mildly
improved version of the P.1127.  It has slowly gotten better over time,
but there has been no attempt to design other combat aircraft along the
same lines.  The Harrier is an excellent Skyhawk-sized attack aircraft,
with capabilities fairly similar to that of the Skyhawk (plus V/STOL!),
but there are things that an aircraft of that size just cannot do.

The fundamental problem is that the Harrier very much came in the back
door, in all the major services that have adopted it.  None of them ever
made a deliberate and conscious commitment to V/STOL as the preferred
future direction for their air-combat arm.  The RN is not really an
exception; they were dragged into V/STOL kicking and screaming when they
lost their last conventional carrier.  Nor is the USMC, because they buy
their aircraft through the USN, which is historically uninterested in
V/STOL; the USMC was allowed to buy the Harrier only because it was an
off-the-shelf aircraft with proven, demonstrated capabilities, and the USN
ultimately couldn't come up with enough arguments to stop it.  (Yes, the
Navy wanted to stop it, because the Marines gave up F-14s to get the
Harriers, cutting the size of the F-14 production run and increasing the
Navy's costs.)

If you want proof of this, consider that land-based V/STOL operations
really need a V/STOL light transport to support them, and V/STOL carrier
operations really need some kind of V/STOL radar aircraft.  Neither has
come into existence (if you disregard the radar helicopters which the RN
improvised in great haste during the Falklands War), even though neither
presents any difficult technical problems and the need for both was
recognized long ago.

>As for the Royal Navy--they wanted a 2-man aircraft with a big radar and
>good range and they got the Harrier.  They traded an awful lot away.  They
>now operate carriers with only minimal striking power and rather poor
>airborne early warning and a limited ability to defend themselves.  The
>Harrier, for all its revolutionary technology, still gives the Royal Navy
>far less capability than it had 20 years ago with an aging carrier and
>aging jets.  This was by no means an advance.

They really had no choice, given that said aging carrier was being retired
and no replacement was available.  For fixed-wing naval aviation, it was
Harriers or nothing.  In fact, for a while it *was* nothing:  Ark Royal
(the RN's last Phantom-capable carrier) was scrapped with no commitment to
any sort of replacement at all.

>It is entirely possible that this experience can predict the current
>development of RLVs...

There are other similarities.  In particular, the Harrier enthusiasts
still have not succeeded in convincing people that V/STOL really does
work, is not that hard if done right, and does not incur fundamental
penalties if done right.  (The Harrier and Skyhawk are of similar size and
have quite similar capabilities, if you check the numbers and remember to
compare early Harriers with early Skyhawks and late-model Harriers with
late-model Skyhawks.  The Harrier needs slightly higher technology to get
the same results, but it's not particularly difficult technology, just
underfunded and underappreciated.)  They've got the numbers and the
combat results, it's just that nobody's listening.

Fortunately, I see somewhat more hope for RLVs, because they are trying to
break into an increasingly commercial market -- rather than a socialist
centrally-planned economy -- where new companies can succeed with new
concepts even if the old guard is vehemently opposed.  "The Guard dies
but never surrenders", so you have to *kill* them; outflanking them and
shouting "boo" is not enough.  In the commercial market, where one man's
dollar is as good as another's, the Young Turks have live ammunition.
Being the last man on the Moon                  |     Henry Spencer
is a very dubious honor. -- Gene Cernan         |

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