The Insane Engineering of the F-35B

Last updated: May 7, 2023

The design of the F-35B relies on numerous components to create a networked hivemind that gives pilots significant situational awareness.

The plane has a liftvan module containing two counter-rotating titanium blisks that generate up to 191 kilonewtons of thrust, allowing the plane to take-off from short runways.

The F-35B also has advanced sensor technology and communication systems that allow it to share data securely with other planes and ground-based systems.

  • The F-35B is a versatile, stealthy fighter aircraft
  • It has advanced sensors and a heads-up display for unparalleled situational awareness
  • The plane also has a lift fan that produces 85 kN of vertical thrust, allowing it to land like a helicopter
  • The jet has a unique operating capability, transitioning from horizontal to vertical flight with its vertical turbofan engine
  • The F-35B has a liftvan module containing two counter-rotating titanium blisks that generate up to 191 kilonewtons of thrust, allowing it to take-off on short runways
  • The F-35's communication systems allow it to share data securely with other planes and ground-based systems

Unique Capabilities of the F-35B

  • The F-35B is a high-tech, versatile fighter aircraft.
  • Not only is it a stealthy fighter, it can also attack airborne and ground-based targets.
  • It incorporates Lockheed’s lessons learned in stealth technology from their previous F-117 Nighthawk and F-22 Raptor ventures.
  • To give the pilot unparalleled situational awareness, the F-35B comes with advanced sensors and a heads-up display on the pilot’s helmet visor.
  • Furthermore, it can share information with allied aircraft without compromising stealth.
  • Most notably, the F-35B is capable of transitioning from horizontal to vertical flight by using a combination of directional thrust and its vertical turbofan engine.
  • This makes it possible for the F-35B to land like a helicopter on relatively small vessels, such as the US Marines' amphibious assault ships.

Stealth Technology

  • Stealth is not about making aircrafts invisible, rather it aims to delay enemy detection for as long as possible.
  • For bomber aircraft, it shrinks the range of enemy radar stations, thereby allowing the aircraft to slip through undetected.
  • For fighter aircraft, it provides a critical advantage by allowing detection of the enemy before they detect the aircraft.
  • This is done by minimizing the strength of the radar return signal.
  • To reduce this signal, the aircraft is designed without flat surfaces that could reflect radar waves.
  • Additionally, corner reflectors need to be avoided by removing the tail or using v-tails (as seen on the F-117 Nighthawk).
  • Fortunately, this v-tail can be used as both a rudder and an elevator, thereby reducing the need for extra control surfaces.

Challenges of Aircraft Design

  • Designing for stealth imposes certain design trade-offs.
  • This in part due to larger control surfaces such as the vertical and horizontal stabilizers being replaced (in the F-35) with a single v-tail.
  • This leads to reduced control authority since the v-tail has to work double duty as both a rudder and elevator.
  • To reduce heat signatures, the engines are mounted on the upper surface of the plane, like the B-2 and the F-117.
  • This however becomes a problem during high angle of attack maneuvers, when the engine receives lower pressure air and lowers performance.
  • To mitigate this, the F-35 has two engines mounted on either side of the fuselage.
  • The air intake on the F-35 also has some clever aerodynamic features, like a bump, to help with air flow.

Lift Fan

  • The F-35 features a lift fan, which is essentially a tiny helicopter that produces 85 kN of vertical thrust.
  • This forceful suction of air into the aircraft is generated at a 90 degree angle, so the hood needs to allow air to pass over it without creating too much turbulence.
  • To facilitate this, the largest hatch on the plane is curiously not serrated, as the sharp edges would cause disturbances in the air flow.

Vertical Take-offs and Short Take-offs

  • The F-35B has an optimized design for short take-offs, starting with its rear-hinged hood.
  • To take-off, the engine transfers 29,000 horsepower to the lift fan and the exhaust nozzle rotates and changes shape.
  • This transformation allows the plane to take off on very short runways and land vertically.
  • It has a minimum take-off distance of 258 meters when using an aircraft carrier.
  • It can take-off even shorter distances using a ski-jump, allowing for take-off over a smaller aircraft carrier.
  • During take-off, the rear nozzle and rear elevators adjust to ensure a safe take-off.

The F-35B's Engine and Liftfan Module

  • The F-35B has a single F-135 engine, a version of the F-119 engine from the F-22 Raptor.
  • The F-35B's engine has a higher bypass ratio and much higher mass flow rate for higher thrust.
  • It generates up to 191 kilonewtons of thrust, in comparison to the 156 kilonewtons the F-22's engine generates.
  • To save weight, the liftvan module is only 1.2 tonnes, containing two counter-rotating titanium blisks.
  • The design of these titanium blisks is astounding, creating an efficient and reliable fan and bypass ducting.

Roll Direction Control

  • In addition to the changing positions of the nozzle and lift fan, the F-35 uses two roll nozzles located underneath each wing to control the roll direction of the plane.
  • The nozzle's guide vanes can adjust the outlet area to control thrust while vertical, while the plane has computer assisted control mechanisms to maintain stability.
  • This level of control and precision allows the F-35 to hover in the same spot by balancing on two columns of air.

Networking Capabilities of the F-35

  • The F-35's modern suite of sensors and computers feed information into its pilot’s helmet, ensuring the highest degree of situational awareness.
  • This helmet allows pilots to have x-ray vision and night vision.
  • All this information takes place through a central computer, which is displayed on a projector inside the helmet.
  • A suite of sensors are placed in a faceted box underneath the aircraft, with the antennas made from a durable and transparent sapphire.
  • The highly important phased array antenna is located in the nose of the plane, scanning the environment using constructive and destructive interference of radio waves to track multiple targets without any moving parts.
  • The F-35 boasts cutting-edge communication systems like MADL, to quickly share data securely between F-35s and ground based systems.
  • Thanks to these abilities, the F-35 is capable of creating a networked hivemind with other planes and allies on the surface.


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