What is Thrust Vectoring?

April, 15, 2021 by

Simply put, thrust vectoring is the ability of a vehicle to change the direction of thrust to control the angular velocity or attitude of the vehicle. This can serve many different functions, but it is popular in military aircraft to achieve a tighter turn radius for air superiority purposes.

Thrust vectoring was first envisioned to create VTOL, STOVL, and STOL capable aircraft. After further research, many scientists and engineers realized that thrust vectoring could be used in combat situations to perform maneuvers without being completely dependent on the control surfaces of the aircraft. Aircraft with thrust vectoring capabilities are usually able to outmaneuver their counterparts that do not have the ability to change the direction of their thrust.

However, thrust vectoring is not limited to aircraft. It can be a useful feature for rockets and even missiles. Once a rocket leaves the atmosphere, aerodynamic control surfaces do not function as they would in a conventional aircraft. At this point, thrust vectoring becomes a great alternative. It can give the rocket sufficient control of its angular velocity. A popular way to do this is to use a gimbaled thrust system. In a gimbaled thrust system, the engine, or sometimes just the exhaust nozzle of the rocket can move on two axes. This is a common method of thrust vectoring, used on the Saturn V, the Space Shuttle, and the Falcon 9. Some rockets gimbal the entire combustion chamber and outer engine, while others just move the nozzle instead.

However, thrust vectoring isn’t limited to two dimensions. While there are not many widely known aircraft today that can change their thrust angle in 3 dimensions, there are many experimental aircraft that use a three dimensional thrust vectoring nozzle that give the aircraft supermaneuverability.

Overall, thrust vectoring gives vehicles an advantage in control and maneuverable capability, and it’s exciting to think of the prospect of what thrust vectoring could do in the future. As we enter the age of space tourism and observe increasingly fast and maneuverable aircraft, it’s inevitable that we will see more thrust vectoring vehicles in the near future.

Resources: Wikipedia 1 2 3, NASA 1 2, Airspacemag

Mukundan Srivatsa is a contributor for the IFATC Education Group. He is an IFATC specialist. Outside of Infinite Flight, he loves to go planespotting, play sports, and is an aspiring aerospace engineer.