‘FLYING BEDSTEAD’ TO ‘F-35-LIGHNING II’ – ROLLS-ROYCE LEADS BY EXAMPLE
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
07 Jul 14. To the unsuspecting onlooker the Rolls-Royce ‘thrust-measuring rig’ which was better known as the ‘Flying Bedstead’ must have been an awesome and yet frightening sight when it hovered in the skies for the first time during the late summer of 1954. With pilot perched rather precariously on top and as it filled the skies with huge noise from two 5,000-lb thrust ‘Nene’ engines mounted with fuel tanks, controls and pilot seat on a frame that consisted of steel tubes with legs, the ‘Flying Bedstead’ would represent yet another giant leap for Britain in aerospace engineering technology.
Whether in aerospace, maritime, defence or nuclear engineering Rolls-Royce has been breaking technology barriers throughout its very long history. What emerged at Hucknall as the ‘Flying Bedstead’ sixty years ago marked the beginnings of global leadership for Rolls-Royce in short take-off and landing (STOVL) technology and one that remains to this very day.
Given the unrivalled experience and the very high relevance of STOVL technology in the UK’s future carrier strike capability plus that of other air forces around the world the very first sighting outside of the USA of the ‘B’ variant of the Lockheed Martin F-35 ‘Lightning ll’ aircraft and that is due to fly later this week at the UK’s premier military airshow event, the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford, will be eagerly awaited.
Having myself already been able to witness STOVL variants of the F-35 Lightning ll aircraft piloted by Royal Air Force and Royal Navy pilots flying the aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida earlier this year I can say without hesitation that I was extremely impressed with the aircraft performance and in particular, the hovering manoeuvre.
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter represents a new generation of fast jet military aircraft capability in three variants is one that is expected, over a thirty plus year production life, to become the largest single fast jet programme in the history of military aviation. F-35 Lightning ll is the future but I believe that we would do as well to stop awhile and remember that without the vast research and development engineering effort, investment, determination and self-belief of Rolls-Royce STOVL technology that is represented in the ‘B’ variant of this very fine military aircraft capability would not be where it is today.
What was to be learned from the thrust measuring ‘Flying Bedstead’ rig’ would lead eventually to development of engines used in the first fixed-wing VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) Short SC.1 aircraft that was specifically designed to study problems associated with transitioning between VTOL and forward flight.
If my records are correct August 9th will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the first ‘untethered’ hovered flight of ‘Flying Bedstead’ in the capable hands of Rolls-Royce test pilot, R T Shepherd. ‘Flying Bedstead’ was not an aircraft in the true sense of the word of course but rather a large research tool that was built and based during it period of use at RR’s Hucknall, Nottinghamshire test facility and that today happens to also produce parts for the STOVL variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning ll.
VTOL jet engine technology was originally based on having four rotating nozzles to direct thrust over a range of angles. Its development would eventually lead to the Bristol Pegasus engine (Rolls-Royce acquired Bristol Siddeley in 1966) and by Hawker-Siddeley of the P.1127, the later ‘Kestrel’ which would eventually morph into the V/STOL (Vertical Short Take-Off and Landing) Harrier jump jet that we all know so well today. Designed by Hawker Siddeley and further developed by BAE Systems a large number of Harrier aircraft continue to operate with US, Spanish and Indian military forces mainly in the uprated AV-8B f