The aircraft, known as AU-2, was flown on its 90-minute transit from Lockheed Martin’s plant in Fort Worth, Texas, to Luke by U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Todd “Torch” LaFortune. It was then assigned to the 56th Fighter Wing, that already operated a fleet of 17 F-35s.
The arrival of AU-2 at Luke AFB marks the first of 10 international partners starting training in the US. The second F-35A for Australia, designated AU-1, is scheduled to arrive at Luke Air Force Base in the next few days.
The RAAF is expected to operate 72 such multi-role planes from two airfields, Williamtown, in New South Wales, and Tindal, in the Northern Territory, along with the current fleet of Australian F/A-18F Super Hornet (some of those are deployed in the UAE to support U.S. led campaign against ISIS) and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.
The Navy’s F-35C CV (Carrier Variant) version of the Joint Strike Fighter has finally landed onto the USS Nimitz’s flight deck using a new arresting gear.
On Nov. 3, at 12.18PM LT, F-35C CF-3 with a new tailhook assembly successfully, piloted by Navy test pilot Cmdr. Tony Wilson, landed on the flight deck of USS Nimitz, marking the very first arrested landing of the costly 5th generation plane on a supercarrier.
The successful arrested landing comes about three years after the F-35C, the variant developed for the U.S. Navy proved to be unable to get aboard a flattop because of its first tailhook design issues.
At that time, during specific tests conducted at NAWC-AD (Naval Air Warfare Center – Aircraft Division) Lakehurst, the F-35C failed to engage the MK-7 arresting gear with a disappointing score of 0 successes in 8 attempts. According to the subsequent reports, root cause analysis pointed to some AHS (Arresting Hook System) design issues: aircraft geometry (short distance between the Main Landing Gear tires and the tailook point); tailkook point design, with scarce ability to scoop low positioned cables;tailkook hold-down ineffective performance in damping bounces relative to the deck surface profiles.
In other words, the distance of 7.1 feet between the tires and the tailhook was too short and the responsive dynamics were such that the cable lied nearly flat on the deck by the time the tailkook point should intercept it for arrestment.
As many as four F-35s (three from the U.S. Marine Corps and a British one) were scheduled to take part in Royal International Air Show (RIAT) and Farnborough Airshow (FIA) near London. But, whereas it seems at least unlikely the aircraft can make it to RAF Fairford for RIAT, there could be some chances the aircraft could eventually attend FIA 2014, a major showcase which attracts aerospace companies and potential customers from all around the world.
Indeed, while investigation into the cause of the engine fire continues and the rest of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Royal Air Force F-35s remain grounded, according to DefenseNews, the Marines may decide to allow their F-35B jets to cross the Pond, making happy aviation enthusiasts and…Lockheed Martin, facing the umpteenth issue with the troubled fifth generation aircraft.
“As part of that, there is the possibility NAVAIR would allow for return to flight before the Air Force or the UK did depending how they analyze and accept that data and manage risk,” Kyra Hawn, a spokeswoman for the F-35 joint program office, told to DefenseNews’s Aaron Mehta.
Therefore, even if U.S. Air Force and UK will not lift the flight ban in time for the airshows, the U.S. Marine Corps may decide it is ok for them to fly the jump jet aircraft overseas.
As said, nothing has been decided yet. Considering that RIAT opens this weekend, the participation to FIA appears at least a bit more likely. But, who’s going to accept the risk to allow the aircraft to fly in spite of a fleet-wide grounding and investigation underway?
Can you imagine the impact of an incident on the reputation of the much debated aircraft?
Italy plans to save 3 billion Euro (4.18 billion USD) in defense savings over the next three years, money that will come from the sale of some barracks and military buildings, from a reduction of the personnel, and from cuts to some top spending programs, first of all the F-35, on which the government has so far committed to spend some 12 billion Euro.
Dealing with the F-35, the order will be “revised,” meaning that cuts are certain, considering the amount of attention and criticism that surround the program. But, it is almost impossible to predict the extent of the revision.
Some media outlets have foreseen a drastic cut to 45 planes, half of the current plan, and about one third of the initial requirement, set to 131 Joint Strike Fighters.
The center-left PD (Democratic Party) defense committee has just published a paper about the current state of Italy’s weapons systems, highlighting the need for a significant reduction on F-35 procurement, because:
the program does not guarantee industrial gains for Italian industry
is characterized by too much variability (in terms of cost)
current costs do not include armament
Italy will not be allowed to access core sensitive technology, an embargo which “determines a factor of operational dependency on American political-industrial instances
The 10-page paper (in Italian, can be downloaded here) envisages an Air Force with two front line combat planes: the F-35 and the Eurofighter Typhoon. Noteworthy, the document highlights the multi-role capability demonstrated by the latter; it seems quite likely that, sooner or later, considered the cuts to the F-35s, the Italian Air Force (that so far has employed the Typhoon as an air superiority platform) will eventually commit its F-2000s to the air-to-surface role as done by the UK since Libya Air War.
Another issue raised by the document is the cost of the “operational redundancy” caused by the Italian Navy’s two aircraft carriers. The most obvious candidate to be scrapped is the Garibaldi, Italy’s first post-war aircraft carrier.
The Garibaldi, joined by the larger and more capable Cavour in 2008, could be sold to some emerging country looking for second-hand helicopter carrier capable to support Amphibious Assault operations.
There are several examples of combat aircraft that were born with the aim to serve in two or three different services of the same nation in aviation history.
Usually, these programs face many problems before they reach their full operational capability and they struggle to satisfy the different customers who put them into service.
This rule is confirmed by the last of these aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) which generated the three different versions of the F-35, as well as an older program, the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX), with the USAF F-111A and the US Navy F-111B.
And while the Lightning II is eventually entering the active service in spite of several issues, the F-111 survived only in the A variant while the F-111B, destined to the U.S. Navy, was cancelled.
But among all these programs there has been also a huge success: the so called VAL (with V meaning for heavier than air; A attack; L light) from which the Vought A-7 Corsair was born.
Originally, the VAL was a 1962 joint service program for the development of an advanced light attack aircraft involving USAF, U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.
However the Air Force preferred using its existing fighters for light attack and for close air support and suspended its sustainment to the development of the program.
So the Corsair II became the result of a Navy’s specific requirement to replace the older light attack aircraft such as the AD Skyraider and the A-4 Skyhawk.
Only in 1965 USAF rejoined to the program, developing its all weather version of the Corsair II, the A-7D. This version included advanced flight and navigation displays, one of the first digital computer and also an inertial navigation system. Indeed the A-7D had a truly advanced avionics: it embedded some sophisticated systems, including the CCIP, the Continuosly Computed Impact Point that gave a real time computation of the weapon release point.
Along with the CCIP there was also the CCRP, the Continuosly Computed Release Point which would automatically deliver the weapon on the target point.
The A-7D also introduced the BFL, acronym of Bomb Fall Line which showed a “X” on the HUD indicating where the weapon would have hit if the pilot delivered the weapon at that moment.
All these tools were a great help for the development of the Navy A-7E and thanks to the Air Force introduction in the program the Naval Aviation was able to realize its own version of the Corsair II with real all weather attack capabilities.
However the A-7 wasn’t such a revolutionary aircraft like the F-35 is intended to be: in fact the Corsair II was a low risk project since its airframe was similar to the F-8 and was also simpler than the Crusader one.
Still, the last of the Vought naval aircraft achieved some impressive milestones such as accomplishing its first flight on Sept. 27, 1965 ahead of the schedule and the first training example of the aircraft was delivered to the Navy in November 1966.
All images: Naval Aviation Museum FB page
The A-7 didn’t face high cost overruns and the airplane was also able to respect the maintainability requirement with only 17 maintenance man-hours per flight hour.
Nevertheless the A-7D/Es were some of the first combat aircraft to be equipped with the Head Up Display.
Thanks to the help that every service gave each other, the Corsair II was able to satisfy its customers and become an attack platform with capabilities which they didn’t have anywhere else.
Maybe the story of the A-7 should guide the Joint Strike Fighter: a program not only affected by schedule slippage and cost overruns but that also a plane that risks to fail to meet some of its customers’ requirements.