Blog: F-35 Offers Dream Capabilities for Pilots Who Have Flown It

February 11, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Ease of operation and new technologies outweigh the problems that remain to be solved for the expensive Lightning II.

Military and civilian pilots who have flown the F-35 Lightning II praise its performance and are optimistic about its superiority in the future battlespace. However, even with fixes that have been made, some issues need to be addressed and support crew will need to adopt new ways of maintaining the flight line, these pilots say.

Four pilots sitting on a Tuesday panel at West 2014, co-sponsored by AFCEA International and the U.S. Naval Institute and being held February 11-13 in San Diego, discussed the state of the F-35 program as well as the jet’s prognosis. Lt. Cmdr. Michael Burks, USN, senior Navy test pilot for the F-35 and integrated test force operations officer, described the aircraft as having “unbelievable flying qualities” and being easy to fly. Cmdr. Luke Barradell, USN, operations officer, Carrier Air Wing 11, said that the aircraft is “very docile” in the administrative phased of flight, and it is going to be a delight to fly off carriers.

The lone civilian on the panel, William C. Gigliotti, F-35 FW site/production lead test pilot, Lockheed Martin, noted that his 14-year-old son has his heart set on being a naval aviator. “I want my son to fly one of these going into combat,” Gigliotti said, adding, “not that I want him to go into combat, but I want him to have an unfair advantage. We don’t want parity.”

Cmdr. Burks offered that the aircraft’s technologies will change the way air missions are carried out. Equipped with a plethora of sensors and datalinks, the vehicle offers a range of potential alternitives with the synergy it brings to the battlespace. “In the future, it may not matter where the weapon comes from,” the commander said of a bombing run. “I may pass the data along, or I may fire a weapon and it may come from somewhere else. That is where we are heading.”

Still, the F-35’s advanced technologies are offering some unforeseen challenges. Its low-observable stealth material will require different handling than traditional carrier aircraft. Cdr. Burks said here will have to be a “paradigm shift out in the fleet” to maintain its low observability. “No longer can we allow these aircraft to get grimy at sea” as was the practice with conventional jet aircraft, he observed. Gigliotti said that sailors and Marines have been developing new practices for that purpose. The incredibly noisy engine also will change life for deck crews during takeoff, Cmdr. Burks added, saying they probably will need noise cancellation earphones.


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The hard cold truth and unfortunate reality is that the F-35, despite being almost a religious experience to some of the proponent, is simply not a sustainable Program. There will just not be anywhere near the currently still assumed and expected Procurement orders placed in coming Fiscal Years, due to the indefinite austere budget environment. The presumed numbers of F-35 to be procured annually (under late LRIP lots and early FRP lots) will be significantly slashed further than they already have to date, due to additional restructurings. The jets sadly will never be 'affordable', just as the F-22 was expected and estimated to be 'affordable' even as late as 2005-2006 and produced in higher numbers.

Another critical flaw in the above assessments by the pilots is that the 'dream' jet is likely still another 5 years away from block 3 IOC for International partners and by then, who knows how many they will have been able to afford and what new, competitor capabilities they will be up against.

Moreover, the block IV (a critical update), as was originally required by allies as their baseline operational jet, won't likely be IOC until 2022 or even 2023! There could be all kinds of revolutionary 'game-changing' tactics, new technologies and asymmetrical capabilities by then -- including next-gen stealthy UCAV platforms proliferating around the world and whole new weapon classes -- which could chip away at the F-35's relevance. (Not to mention the reduction in F-35's relevance when the first F-22s retire).

But perhaps the most truly (scary) grotesque comment which probably stuck out to more than a few readers, was that of the LM test pilot boasting of not being able to wait until his son goes into combat as a Naval aviator flying the presumed F-35C. With all due respect...what kind of exploitative and arguably irresponsible comment was that? First of all, again, the 'test-pilot' has no expertise or any concept of which actual potential (superior) threats his son might have to face in the 2025-2030 time-frame (challenging parity), if he did in fact become a future Naval aviator! Besides... Nobody in the world today should be hoping for or glamorizing a fantastical combat experience for their son, as they might have done in ancient times.

Being a naval aviator would be a wonderful job/career. Americas military doctrine is based on deterrence. It is much more likely his son will not face combat and will retire from the military to fly passenger jets as his careeer. And as a side note, who cares what you think. Unfortunately we live in a world that could care less about others. We live in a world that
doesnt care about how hard you can hug a tree. All great civilizations have failed because thier military wasnt strong enough to defend the people. If you are naive enough to think we should just end all military procurement then everything I have said here will fall on deaf ears.

The F-35 is even more vulnerable to lightning and anti aircraft fire than previously reported.

Maximum g forces for continuous turns are now projected to be 4.6 g for the F-35A, 4.5 g for the F-35B, and 5.0 g for the F-35C.

The F-35C takes 43 seconds longer than an F-16 to accelerate from Mach 0.8 to Mach 1.2.

The F-35B and F-35C use almost all of their internal fuel before being able to achieve their maximum speed of Mach 1.6.

Test pilots said that poor visibility from the F-35 cockpit will get them "consistently shot down in combat."

The F-35 systems lack complete software in order that pilots can be trained safely.

Ejection seats are subject to numerous failures.

Avionics are unreliable and fail to respond to inputs.

Radar may not work properly, if at all.

Heat on the skin of the aircraft, generated by supersonic flight speeds, causes the stealth paint covering of the aircraft to wear out prematurely.

Engines that are supposed to be replaced in two hours have thus far taken about 52 hours to be replaced.

Tools assigned to maintain the aircraft fail to provide proper functionality.

So we are 8 or so years into the building and design phase of the F-35 project, the most expensive defense program of all time, a project that has involved all 4 major branches of the US Military, and you expect people to believe the brightest aeronautical engineers who designed this aircraft along with the exceptionally long list of US pilots they've gotten feedback from over the length of the program nobody bothered to fix a visibility problem that would get these things consistently shot down in combat.........please just stop! You sound like you get your information from the Russian Gazette or The Putin News Weekly! The fact of the matter is everyone who's flown one of these bad boys said its unbelievable! I don't know the truth behind your other claims but with this claim alone you have lost all credibility

reply to stokanator - Yes, one or two F-35 test pilots actually said that the poor visibility around the F-35 would consistently get them shot down in close combat. However, we are working to make the sensor system work to its specifications. Once we have it working, the pilots should have superior visibility to their eyes alone. Just give us some time. And, if Lockheed or military test pilots make a negative public statement about the aircraft that they are testing and we find out who they are, they will NEVER fly again. You can rest assured. Just remember, the F-35 is a special aircraft, primarily for intelligence gathering. We have never said that it is an air superiority fighter. The head of the USAF says it will be flying in groups of eight with two F-22's to provide top cover. That way, so long as it outnumbers the enemy, once its systems are fully developed and up to date jamming pods are available in a few more years, it will be vastly superior to ANYTHING comparable.

Read the book BOYD and everyone will have a different perspective. That is all I have to say.

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