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What are the additional capabilities that 3D thrust vectoring (TVC) provides over 2D thrust vectoring?

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  • $\begingroup$ define "much better". in its current state this question is heavily opinion-based. $\endgroup$ – Federico Jun 25 '15 at 6:48
  • $\begingroup$ its more specifically in terms of maneuverability.. $\endgroup$ – NitinG Jun 25 '15 at 8:54
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Thrust vectoring allows to control an aircraft when the airflow over its control surfaces has separated. Before thrust vectoring, the range of angles of attack in which an aircraft could be controlled was rather restricted.

With the X-31, it was for the first time possible to control a completely stalled aircraft, which enabled much quicker maneuvering in order to get the nose pointed at an adversary. This was powerfully demonstrated by mock air combats with an F-18. The X-31 used a rather simple arrangement with three paddles at the engine exhaust, and this allowed to create both pitch and yaw moments. This makes it what you call a 3D thrust vectoring aircraft.

Modern thrust vectoring nozzles are round and allow to deflect the thrust by up to 20° in both pitch and yaw, making them also what you call 3D. However, this geometry will scatter radar waves in all directions, which makes it unsuitable for stealth aircraft. Therefore, stealthy designs can use only two straight vanes above and below the jet exhaust, which will create only pitch moments. This is what you call 2D thrust vectoring. When two engines are installed, differential deflection will allow to create limited roll moments, but the powerful side forces which allowed the X-31 to rotate its nose (and radar) quickly into the path of its adversary will no longer be possible.

Stealthy thrust vectoring will still allow to control the aircraft at all angles of attack, but the yaw rates possible with a regular thrust vectoring nozzle are no longer achievable. This, and the structural mass of a rectangular exhaust, are the distinct disadvantages of stealthy nozzle designs.

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  • $\begingroup$ You should state which is the 3D and which is the 2D variant. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jun 25 '15 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ @JanHudec: Done, but those terms are not really appropriate. They are more from pop culture than engineering. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Jun 25 '15 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. But they are in the question, so they need to be mentioned. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jun 25 '15 at 15:47
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In short, yes; the ability to vector thrust to the sides of the aircraft, inducing yaw, does provide an advantage in maneuvering over pitch-only vectoring.

Consider the Su-30 "SM" and "MK" variants, which have 3D thrust vectoring. Here's a Su-30 at an airshow (I'm unsure of the exact variant) performing a range of post-stall aerobatics:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ujenrmoeALE

Many of these maneuvers require the pilot to be able to kick his rear end to one side or the other without the aid of aerodynamic control surfaces (such as the post-stall Immelmann, the J-turn, the Super Cobra which basically stands the jet on its tail in mid-air, etc) and thus could not be performed, at least not to the same degree, by an aircraft like the F-22. The utility of such maneuvers in aerial combat is unknown and probably low (standing still in mid-air is more likely to get you shot down than to provide any tactical advantage), which is one reason why full 3D vectoring hasn't been added to U.S. fighters (there was some talk about applying the systems seen on the F-15 ACTIVE and F-16 VISTA to combat planes, but nothing serious ever came of it, and most of those airframes are now slated for retirement).

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An aircraft always needs "3D manoeuverability" (pitch, yaw, roll). Whether you use TVC to perform one, two or all three functions, exclusively, or in combination with aerodynamic control surfaces is a matter of design choices and optimization.

The choice truly depends on what are the requirements of the aircraft in question. Note that TVC in itself is not necessarily "better" than conventional control surfaces on the wing and/or tailplanes.

  • Aerodynamic control surfaces are very efficient (with enough speed), but take some space and induce loads in the airframe. Ailerons on a wing take space that could be used for flaps. Tailplanes are a pure cost of weight and drag that you pay for maneuverability (and stability).
  • TVC costs a lot of weight and complexity, but in turn has little to no direct penalty on drag. However, note that it has a rather limited efficiency (which is directly tied to the thrust of the aircraft -- which is not so good: ideally you want thrust and attitude control to be independent).

Maneuverability always has a cost. So the question really is: For a particular aircraft configuration, and for a particular requirement of maneuverability (in pitch, yaw, roll), and for a particular combination of optimization criteria (minimize weight, drag, costs, complexity,...): What is the combination of aerodynamic surfaces and TVC (and other means) that meets the requirement while minimizing the criteria?

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    $\begingroup$ (This does not answer the question) However, what is the added bonus of the third dimensionality of TVC over 2d? What is the combat use case for more maneuverability in yaw? Modern fighters change direction of flight by roll and pitch (roll until you can pull up into the new direction), not generally by yawing. This question is not TVC vs non-TVC, but 2d TVC vs 3d TVC. $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Jun 25 '15 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @CGCampbell, I think this is just another way of looking at the question. There is always a need for some amount of yaw control, that might or might not be related to combat. My point is that whether you should implement it with 3D TVC (with its cost in weight & complexity) or with larger rudders (with their cost of drag) is a matter of optimization of the configuration. $\endgroup$ – Eric Leibenguth Jun 25 '15 at 12:30
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, I heartily agree with what you are saying. What I am saying is you did not answer the question(s) asked. Either the title, or the body... I can't up-vote you as is. (hint hint) $\endgroup$ – CGCampbell Jun 25 '15 at 13:50

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