While the British were busy developing their Harrier jump jet, the Soviets endeavored to bring about their own VTOL system. Yakovlev began work on such a form in the 1960s, producing the Yak-104. When this initiative was abandoned, a new project emerged that eventually became the Yak-36. The Yak-36 "Freehand" ended its days as a test article through four prototypes but proved instrumental in producing the Yak-38's prototype - the "Yak-36M".
The Yak-36M actually held little in common with the earlier Yak-36 and featured a slimmer fuselage with shorter wing mainplanes. A single vertical tail surface was retained and downward-canted horizontal planes added. A split-air intake was used to aspirate the engine installations. Primary propulsion for forward flight was handled by a dedicated turbojet engine of considerable output power while two smaller, lower-powered turbojet units were used for lift-thrust and fitted vertically in a housing aft of the cockpit. The cockpit seated one and this was itself placed aft of a short nosecone. Intended for Soviet Navy service aboard the Kiev-class aircraft carriers, the finalized version of this aircraft was given the usual carrier-friendly qualities such as folding wings and a reinforced undercarriage. The undercarriage was of a retractable, tricycle design arrangement.
First flight of the Yak-38 prototype was recorded during early 1971. Take off and landing procedures were made fully-automated to help take some responsibility off of the pilot. The ejection seat was integrated to the lift engines for, should they fail and the aircraft begin to roll, the pilot was ejected "safely" away from the doomed aircraft. The computer-controlled engine system was designed to provide the proper mix of thrust to each lift unit to ensure that the aircraft stay aloft by way of precise calculations. In the end, Short Take-Off and Landings became more commonplace to the aircraft as opposed to relying on true vertical take-off and landing actions. The lift jets behind the pilot's seat were exposed during vertical flight while the primary engine's exhaust ports (seated under the aft-section of the aircraft) swiveled down to balance out lift power.
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