The first of the Yak-38 prototypes (designated as "Forger" by NATO) flew in early 1971. The fuselage took on a slim pencil-thin appearance with short stubby-like delta wings. The main thrust vectoring turbojet was held at rear of the fuselage and complimented by two smaller lift-jets mounted forwards. These lift-jets were mounted specifically to produce the downward flow of thrust, allowing the system to achieve vertical take-offs from Soviet carriers.
Take off and landing procedures features a fully automated process that was computer controlled. This system was engineered to provide the right mix of thrust to each engine system to ensure that the system would stay aloft through precise calculations. In the end, short-take off and landings became more commonplace with operators choosing to take advantage of the system in that regard as opposed to the VTOL capability.
The initial Yak-38 was a single seat aircraft designated as the "Forger-A" designed moreso to train Soviet naval aircrews in the function of piloting a VTOL aircraft. Thusly, this particular model featured an underpowered engine system. Subsequent (albeit limited) models included the Yak-38UV "Forger-B" twin-seat trainer model with extended fuselage. An improved Forger was designated as the Yak-38Mand featured improved systems and more power powerplants.
After 231 models were reportedly produced, the Yak-38 Forger was removed from Russian naval service in early 1992. Attempts to replace the Yak-38 in the carrier VTOL role in the forms of the Tak-41 and Yak-43 were unsuccessful. As of this writing, there has been no named model successor.
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