Nice flying

Here are a couple of US Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier II‘s performing reverse landings aboard the USS America.  A reverse landing is when the aircraft is pointing in the opposite direction to the ship, which is moving forward along its normal course.  Effectively, the Harriers have to fly backwards at the speed of the ship in order to remain stationary relative to their landing position on the deck, and descend while maintaining backwards flight.

Some tricky flying there – but they made it look easy.  Nicely done, guys!



  1. I wonder if the F-35 Thunderturd will ever reach this state of usefulness.

    (I know, it's the Lightning II, but what does a cloud shoot out it's but when it runs into another cloud? And, unlike the A-10 (official name Thunderbolt II,) so far the F-35 is an embarrassment to the legacy of the P-38 Lightning.)

  2. Why? What is the purpose of this? The only practical situation I can think of is landing on the fantail of a ship, where you might want the ability to leave quickly. I wonder why the flaps are extended while moving backwards. Seems counterproductive. Probably not fast enough airflow to cause damage, but they would act as airbrakes, that it has to overcome.

  3. Good grief, haha. I meant to say MCAS Cherry Point. That's what I get for reading on my phone at the restaurant.

  4. As a helicopter pilot with over 17K hours in my logbook, I have the same question as Will…
    Unnecessary, and possibly dangerous.

  5. Just as your helicopter needs to land into the wind, so do Harriers, Graybeard. When the ship can't or won't maneuver into the wind to recover a measly two Harriers. The AV-8s have adapted to the needs of the fleet (LHA?). The F-35B will do the same.
    Flaps down are the normal configuration for AV-8 landings. They depend purely on engine thrust for lift, and can fly rearwards at 50+ knots in the B model, thanks to exhaust recirculation blocking invented by MCAIR (now Boeing).
    The tricky part is for the pilot to focus so hard his entire world is the aircraft and the ship.


  6. Since flying backwards seems like a really bad idea, but Leatherneck points out that Harriers like to be pointed into the wind, I can only surmise that the ship is sailing with the wind, and the wind is blowing faster than the ship. So while the aircraft appear to be flying backwards relative to the ship, they are actually heading into the wind. Or I could be talking through my hat.

  7. A nice piece of flying that sadly reminds me of the only fatal air crash I've ever witnessed. The '86 NATO airshow at Chievres AFB in Belgium was excellent, great mobile and static displays and we got a low level flyby by an SR-71 (it's good to have four star generals in the audience). The last show of the day was Flight Lieutenant B.D. Weatherby of the RAF in his Harrier – it was explained that he was a war hero from the Falklands conflict and this was essentially a 'fun' detail for him. And he was excellent. He performed a flawless display of low-level aerobatics and was finishing up by backing off the show area – exactly as the Harrier pilot in the video does – when his engine failed. He punched out instantly, but with the backing maneuver and low altitude he never had a chance. The plane's tail dipped and the plane was rolling over vertically onto it's back when the ejection seat fired. The ejection seat, set to fire directly up and back out of the cockpit, was still accelerating when it impacted. The Lieutenant died on impact, and I genuinely think he never knew what hit him. He transitioned directly from that pilot's seat to Valhalla, and there he sits, drinking and boasting with his fellow heroes.

  8. Watch the bottom of the exhaust plume in the first few seconds and you'll see the wind is from left to right. Harriers point into the wind during VTOL maneuvering, they 'weathercock'. Unlike a helicopter the Harrier has no yaw control so it will point into the wind and there is nothing the pilot can do about it.

    A buddy of mine worked on RAF Harriers back in the '60s, I think I'll send him this link.


  9. I say this with the full authority of my aviation expertise:

    Former (failed) ultralight pilot
    Current (failed) RC model plane pilot

    I am sure the swabbies would have spotters watching the decent so the pilot could focus exclusively on his work. I've flown heli's and Harriers on Realflight simulators and going forward is as easy as going backward with VTOL aircraft. Not trying to take away anything from the pilot or be a jerk – but given the thousands of hours these guys log, their top notch training and their honed skills – I don't see anything out of the ordinary here. What looks like black magic to us is mere business as usual for them. By their standards, the pilot had lots of power, lots of room and his team looking out for him.

    These guys earn their money when they get into trouble and have only some or NONE of that going for them.

    Just my two cents, and given my credentials – my opinion is worth what you paid for it…

  10. Again, I'm a senior helo pilot, and don't understand-
    If you can hover, you can point the nose of your aircraft into the wind.
    Why land downwind?

  11. Graybeard,
    Since the ship is cruising such that the wind is from astern, the Harrier IS landing into the wind. The tricky part for the pilot is to ignore the sea (analogous to flying IMC with vertigo) and keep the ship deck as your sole frame of reference, land pointing aft-into the wind and slow your breathing before encountering the deck hands. Apparent cool is, of course, mandatory.


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