F-35B safer and looks more stable in terms of VTOL capability.

What is the basic difference between Harrier II and F-35B's VTOL technology?

  • 9
    $\begingroup$ ~45 years of technological advancements $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Apr 27, 2018 at 19:25
  • $\begingroup$ What @Dave said. It's honestly easier to compare what they have in common than what's different. $\endgroup$
    – Jules
    Apr 28, 2018 at 3:53
  • $\begingroup$ A better question would be to compare F35, Harrier and yak-38. (Two are supersonic, two are built during cold war, two use a special intake just behind the cockpit when flying vertically) $\endgroup$
    – Manu H
    May 28, 2018 at 6:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The Harrier did it better and cheaper. $\endgroup$
    – Paul Smith
    Oct 17, 2022 at 22:48

3 Answers 3


the F35 has a ton of electronics that the Harrier could only dream about, but I will focus on propulsion differences.

The biggest is that the F35B uses a separate lift fan in front of the engine, oriented to provide vertical lift that balances the vectored thrust from the rear of the engine. The lift fan is disconnected when flight speed is obtained and covers closed. Roll control at low speed comes from bleed air from the front fan in the engine.


The Harrier uses a much larger version of a bleed system from a single engine to provide both forward located vertical lift/thrust and a similar total diversion system for rearward lift/thrust through four rotating nozzles. All nozzles are working all the time and rotated to a lift/thrust position. A separate bleed system provides roll and pitch control at low speed.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interestingly, the shaft driven lift fan propulsion concept was developed by an aircraft company, not an engine company. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Bevilaqua. Also, it was developed before the aircraft, and enabled the F-35 to be considered for development, rather than developed as a result of the F-35 design concept being put out for tender. $\endgroup$
    – Penguin
    May 28, 2018 at 9:46

The F-35B can automatically do a VTOL landing while the Harrier is manual. Also the F-35B has a more powerful engine that has an air opening on the top of the jet to increase air intake for VTOL operations.

The performance difference is that the F-35B can go faster than the speed of sound while the Harrier cannot. Not to mention the F-35B has all the bells and whistles of a modern fighter.

  • $\begingroup$ The Marine Corps was flying the Harrier when I was in the Air Wing back in '72. I remember them performing at an air show at El Toro, though they were with the 2nd MAW. Of course, that was the AV-8A made my Hawker, not Grumman. $\endgroup$
    – BillDOe
    Apr 27, 2018 at 19:07
  • $\begingroup$ @BillDOe I think you mean McDonnell-Douglas - Grumman's only VTOL design seems to be the Nutcracker. $\endgroup$
    – egid
    May 28, 2018 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Nutcracker, I seem to recall that Grumman made the AV-8B after it was transferred from Hawker, and it then subsequently transferred to McDonnel-Douglas. However, I could easily be wrong. $\endgroup$
    – BillDOe
    May 29, 2018 at 19:24

In the Harrier, the bypass air from the large diameter low pressure compressor of the Pegasus engine is ducted through the front pair of nozzles while the remaining gas output from the engine passes through the rear pair. Rolls Royce designed the Pegasus engine with the main rotating components, the low and high pressure compressors and the corresponding high and low pressure turbines mounted on two concentric, counter-rotating shafts. This minimises gyroscopic coupling effects and makes it possible to control the Harrier in hovering flight manually, without the aid of an automatic stabilisation system. All four nozzles can be rotated through 98.5 degrees allowing for vertical takeoff and landing. Thrust vectoring can also be used in combat to enhance manoeuverability, a technique pioneered by the USMC. The F35B uses a separate engine driven fan in the forward fuselage in addition to thrust vectoring to provide vertical lift. The Harrier system is much less complex mechanically and avoids the need for the lift fan which is only used for take off and landing and is dead weight the rest of the time, and which also takes up a lot of space in the F35B's forward fuselage.


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