Category Archives: F-35

Watch an F-35A fire 181 rounds from its four-barrel 25mm Gatling gun embedded in the left wing

F-35 fired its embedded gun at full capacity.

The F-35 Integrated Test Force has just released an interesting video showing the 181 round gun burst of the 25 millimeter Gatling gun embedded in the F-35A’s left wing root.

The video was filmed during a ground test at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Gun Harmonizing Range on Aug. 14; initial shots were fired on Jun. 9 and ground testing should be completed by the end of this month. Airborne testing is to start in the fall and at the end of the firing campaign the gun will be operative by 2017.

According to LM, the F-35 flight sciences aircraft, AF-2, underwent instrumentation modifications and used a production version of the GAU-22/A gun to achieve the full capacity of 181 rounds: along with practice PGU-23/U target practice rounds (which do not explode on impact) software to replicate being in flight was uploaded to the aircraft to conduct the test.

The F-35 GAU-22/A gun has been among the most controversial topics lately: some criticised the fact that the Joint Strike Fighter’s gun can only hold 181 20mm rounds, fewer than the A-10 Thunderbolt’s GAU-8/A Avenger, that can hold some 1,174 30mm rounds.

Interestingly, the gun is hidden behind closed doors, to reduce the plane’s RCS (radar cross section) and keep it stealth, until the trigger is engaged.

While the F-35A will be equipped with an embedded GAU-22 gun, the B (STOVL – Short Take Off Vertical Landing) and C (CV – Carrier Variant) variants will carry it inside an external pod capable to hold 220 rounds.

Image credit: F-35 Integrated Test Force

 

Italian Air Force KC-767 becomes first international tanker to refuel an F-35

The Italian KC-767 is the first international aerial refueling tanker to be certified to refuel the F-35.

A KC-767A belonging to 8° Gruppo (Squadron) of 14° Stormo (Wing) from Pratica di Mare airbase, near Rome, became the first international tanker to successfully complete aerial refueling of a U.S. Air Force F-35A during a boom receiver certification refueling flight conducted over California’s High Desert region on Jul. 29.

The Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) KC-767A is the first tanker not operated by the U.S. Air Force to undergo refueling certification trials with a U.S. aircraft.

During the flight (the first of a series being conducted to achieve the full certification, the latest conducted on Aug. 6 and shown on Flightradar24), the KC-767A completed 25 boom contacts with the F-35A and successfully offloaded 16,000 pounds of fuel.

Italy operates a fleet of four KC-767A next generation tankers equipped with both the sixth generation flying boom (based on the one of the American KC-10) and used to refuel the F-35A, and three hose and drogue stations that give the KC-767 the ability to refuel aircraft equipped with onboard receptacle or those with a refueling probe (as the F-35B).

The first KC-767 was delivered to the Italian Air Force on Jan. 27, 2011 and had its “baptism of fire” few months later, during the Air War in Libya, when the new tanker conducted air-to-air refueling missions of Italian planes involved in Operation Unified Protector.

Since then, the fleet has been certified for refueling with several allies: it supported British Eurofighters to LIMA 13 airshow, conducted collective aerial refueling certification and testing with Gripen and Rafale fighter jets and escorted the Spanish EF-18 and Eurofighter Typhoons to Konya, in Turkey, for Anatolian Eagle 2014-2.

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

 

F-35 pilot talking about the 400K USD flight helmet: “It’s cool but I don’t really use it that often”

“but I’m an old school pilot…”

Few months ago we published the interesting interview Maj. John Wilson, an F-35 pilot with 61th Fighter Squadron, gave to Christian Sundsdal of the Danish website focusing on military topics Krigeren, at Luke Air Force Base.

Answering one of the questions, Maj. Wilson clearly admitted that an A-10 Thunderbolt II will always be better in CAS than the F-35 because it was designed to perform that kind of mission.

Recently, Sundsdal has published the second part of the interview, that focused on the 400k USD Helmet Mounted Display System, that combines FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) and DAS (Distributed Aperture System) imaging, night vision and a virtual HUD (Head Up Display).

The HMDS provides the pilot a sort-of X-ray vision imagery: he can see through any surface, with the HUD symbology he needs to fly the plane and cue weapons that follow his head and get projected onto the visor through the line of sight imagery.

As already explained in a previous article, the HMDS has suffered issues though: jitter and latency (solved) along with problems with turbulence and buffeting, that can cause display issues (particularly dangerous when the JSF is maneuvering to evade an enemy missile shot), decreased night-vision acuity, and information sharing when 3 or 4 aircraft fly together.

Still, Wilson is probably not worried by such troubles since he doesn’t use the helmet very much:

“It’s cool, but I don’t use it that often” he says.

The reason is pretty simple: “If I really wanna see what’s underneath me, I’ll just look outside, I just roll up….because it doesn’t take much longer for me to just bank the airplane.”

Interesting point of view.

According to the F-35 pilot, he would just “look” as he would see in much higher clarity with his own eyes. Pilots consider it an “added benefit” and use it sometimes for night flying but that seems to be the only time when the costly HMDS is used (at least by Wilson and his 61th FS colleagues).

Still, Wilson admits he’s an old school pilot, so there may be pilots who use it more often.

“What about if you need to look behind you?” asks one of the interviewers.

Wilson is quite sure: “I’ll use my eyes” because “I need to see things with my own eyes” to judge aspect, distance closure, and other details that you can’t get using a 2D camera.

The F-16, with no camera, has a really good visibility: “It’s just a kind of apple to orange comparison,” Wilson explains, highlighting the fact that the F-35 and the F-16 or F-22 were designed for different roles.

“If you are flying correctly and the jet is doing what it is supposed to do, [enemy] guys should die well before they get behind you” Wilson comments, suggesting, once again, that the JSF’s survivability in air-to-air combat (even against some of the aircraft it is supposed to replace) is based on its BVR (Beyond Visual Range), stealth and SA (Situational Awareness) capabilities, rather than in its agility (initially touted by LM test pilots…).

Ok now it’s time to watch the interview by yourself:

Pilot talks about the helmet and visuality within the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II from Krigeren.dk on Vimeo.

Top image credit: U.S. Air Force

 

F-35s played the US Army’s primary CAS providers during Green Flag. And were not shot down in the process

Two F-35 Lightning II took on a primary role as Close Air Support providers during GF 15-08.

For the first time, F-35s belonging to the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron played a major role during one of the 10 yearly iterations of Green Flag, an exercise conducted on the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, where more than 5,000 U.S. Army soldiers against simulated enemy forces in a 14-day long pre-deployment trial by fire.

Although the JSF has sporadically taken part in past Green Flag drills in the past, this was the very first time the F-35 had the primary exercise role of CAS providers: the pricey stealth multi-role planes penetrated a “contested and degraded battlespace” waiting for calls for support from JTACs (Joint Terminal Attack Controllers) and liaison officers on the ground.

According to the Air Force, the F-35s did the job effectively “just like those that came before it,” a comment that seems to suggest that F-35 is already as capable as the an A-10 or an F-16 in the CAS role, at least in the type of support with Troops in Contact required during a Green Flag exercise.

“The roles played by the two operational test fighters seem relatively modest when examined within the immense scale of a National Training Center rotation. Fourteen days of maneuvering against adversaries in vast desert mountain ranges makes Green Flag a test of the mind and body alike. But when help from the air was called upon, F-35 pilots from the 31st TES communicated and used their systems with precision. They created strategic effects that left troops on the ground largely unaware and unconcerned of what airframe they might be using — seamless integration at its finest,” says the release by the 99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs.

There is a widespread concern that the pricey, troubled multirole F-35 will not be as effective as an A-10 Thunderbolt II or any of the other aircraft the JSF is about to replace but the Air Force seems to be enthusiastic about its new combat plane, especially in the much debated CAS role.

According to AW&ST the Lightning IIs achieved an important result during GF 15-08: not a single F-35  was “shot down” during the drills, a significant achievement for the JSF at its first active participation in a major exercise, especially considering that A-10s and F-16s were defeated in the same conditions.

On the other side, several other analysts claim the participation of two test aircraft in the exercise was just a PR stunt, since the aircraft is still quite far from achieving a combat readiness required to really support the troops at war: it can’t use the gun, it is limited to a couple of JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) and it is still flawed by a long list of serious issues, including those to the 400K USD HMD (Helmet Mounted Display).

The debate between F-35 supporters and critics was made more harsh by a brief obtained by War Is Boring, according to which the JSF was outclassed by a two-seat F-16D Block 40 (one of the aircraft the U.S. Air Force intends to replace with the Lightning II) in mock aerial combat.

Although we have already debunked some theories about the alleged capabilities of all the F-35 variants to match or considerably exceed the maneuvering performance of every fourth-generation fighter, to such an extent we already highlighted that there is no way a JSF will ever match (for instance) a Eurofighter Typhoon in aerial combat, it must be remembered that the simulated dogfight mentioned in the unclassified report obtained by WIB involved one of the very first test aircraft: the AF-02 is quite a basic JSF that lacks a mission systems software to use all the onboard sensors, does not have the special stealth coating that makes it virtually invisible to radars and it implemented an obsolete software code full of limitations.

This does not mean the F-35 will ever be as maneuverable and lethal in aerial combat as an F-22 or an F-16, but it will probably perform a bit better than AF-02 did during its simulated dogfight against the F-16D Block 40.

 

British pilot performs first ever F-35B launch from ski-jump

F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter performs first launch from ski-jump in the hands of a British pilot.

On Jun. 19, BAE Systems Test Pilot Pete ‘Wizzer’ Wilson launched the Lockheed Martin F-35B from a land-based ski-jump for the very first time, at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.

The trials aim at validating the troubled fifth generation multi-role aircraft’s ability to take off safely and effectively from a ski-jump ramp similar to that which will be used on the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.

Ski-jump ramps on aircraft carrier help the launching plane take off with an upward flight path. Italy’s Cavour aircraft carrier, destined to receive the Italian Navy F-35Bs that will replace the AV-8B+ Harrier II is also equipped with a ski-jump.