Earlier this summer, the U.S. Air Force took delivery of the first production of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II to the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla. The F-35 is the world’s most advanced multirole aircraft. It is the most expensive single U.S. military procurement project in history and is expected to replace a wide range of aircraft in the military’s inventory.
Designated AF-9, the newly delivered jet is a multi-role conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) version of the futuristic fighter plane known as Joint Strike Fighter, which has been chosen by the air forces of Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.
Two other variants of the Joint Strike Fighter have been developed and are currently under testing: a short take off and vertical landing one, designated F-35B, and the F-35C carrier-based variant, selected for aircraft carrier operations by the U.S. Navy and the UK’s Royal Air Force. Israel will employ a customized version designated F-35I.
The F-35 Lightning II is a fifth generation fighter. It combines the high speed and agility of fast jet planes with modern technologies such as radar-evading fiber mat skins and gigabit data networking for net-centric warfare.
New breed of fighter pilots
The Joint Strike fighter aircraft is designed to improve a pilot’s situational awareness by and collecting and combining data from different onboard and offboard data sources into a single detailed view of the surrounding airspace and battlefield.
Like most modern advanced fighter planes, it contains a complex weapon system: pilots have to focus on information management, rather than worrying about “flying the aircraft.” For this reason, today’s fighter pilots are more like system administrators or information managers than the iconic Top Guns of the past.
“With previous generations fighters, flying the airplane required 80 percent of the pilot’s effort,” said one pilot of the Italian Air Force who has recently taken part to Unified Protector in Libya with the Eurofighter Typhoon, Europe’s most advanced fighter.
“With modern planes, the basic handling it’s quite simple and represents no more than 20 percent: they almost fly autonomously. On the other side, management of the huge amount of information that it provides can be overwhelming [and] is quite demanding,” this pilot told TechNewsDaily under condition of anonymity.
Lt.Col. Salvatore “Cheero” Ferrara, an Italian Air Force pilot assigned to the JSF program at Washington DC, had a slightly different take on the responsibilities of today’s pilots.
“I believe that the traits of future fighter pilots will be roughly the same as those of past pilots,” Ferrara said. “The only difference is that those skills will be used in a different way: instead of processing flight mechanics data – as I had to do with the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter – they will need to process and manage the huge amount of digital information concerning the management of both the mission and the electronic scenario.”
Easier to fly than ever before
Some years ago, under the supervision of a Lockheed Martin test pilot, I had the opportunity to fly, hover and vertically land a F-35B jet in a military flight simulator. I was surprised to discover that the controls of the so-called Cockpit Demonstrator were not as alien or difficult to navigate as I expected. There was a big panoramic touch screen that can be configured at will by tapping the screen with fingers, like a tablet or a smartphone.
[Read the rest of my article on Tech News Daily]
Image source: Lockheed Martin