Author Archives: Todd Miller

Four of the most experienced USMC F-35B pilots speak about their aircraft. And they say it’s exceptional.

The voice of the pilots is clear – the platform is working exceptionally. The F-35 is a platform with the ultimate level of sophistication, made simple. And therein lay the beauty of the F-35, and just why it will be so deadly, it’s simple.

The combined F-35 fleet now has over 75,000 flight hours, yet many continue to question the performance and value of the aircraft.  Much of this can be expected given early program challenges, and the reality that many of the F-35s capabilities are classified.  Add that many do not grasp the war the F-35 was designed to deter – or fight.  21st century warfare and capability has about as much in common with wars of the past as your 1970’s land line has to your smartphone.  It is in this “smartphone” battlespace that the F-35 is designed to fight and to do so with a distinctly unfair advantage.

To understand the significance and value of the F-35, cut through the complexity and noise.  Simplify.  Put aside the politicians “it does not work!” the ideologues, the self-proclaimed experts and listen to the voice of the pilots.  The pilots will take the aircraft into combat, their own lives in the balance as they penetrate contested space and are wildly outnumbered by adversary aircraft.

The USS America (LHA-6) with 12 F-35Bs on board (2 in Hangar) during "Proof of Concept" demonstration November 19, 2016.  Aircraft from VMFA-211, VX-23 and VMX-1 particpated with MV-22Bs and an AH-1Z & UH-1Y in a "strike exercise" off the coast of CA.

The USS America (LHA-6) with 12 F-35Bs on board (2 in Hangar) during “Proof of Concept” demonstration November 19, 2016. Aircraft from VMFA-211, VX-23 and VMX-1 particpated with MV-22Bs and an AH-1Z & UH-1Y in a “strike exercise” off the coast of CA.

The Aviationist and a handful of journalists recently had the opportunity to visit with four such pilots during a “Proof of Concept” demonstration on the USS America, Nov. 19, 2016.  The four pilots are some of the most experienced F-35B pilots in the United States Marine Corps (USMC) and their previous experience provides valuable context to their statements.

  • George “Sack” Rowell, Commanding Officer (CO) of VMX-1 (Marine Operational Test & Evaluation Squadron). Prior to the F-35, Rowell spent appx. 3000 hours over 18 years of flying the F/A-18 Hornet.  Previously the CO of VMFA(AW)-533
  • Col. Chad “Mo” Vaughn, CO of VMFA-211. Prior to the F-35, Vaughn spent a couple 1000 hrs over 13 years in the F/A-18A-D Hornet, as well as time in the F-16A-B Fighting Falcon/Viper and F/A-18 Super Hornet at NAS Fallon.
  • Col. Rich “BC” Rusnok, slated to become the CO of VMFA-121 in March 2017. Prior to the F-35, Price spent appx. 7 years flying the AV-8B Harrier II with additional time in the F/A-18 Hornet.
  • Col. John “Guts” Price, slated CO for VFMA-122 (2018). Prior to the F-35, Price spent appx. 1200 hrs and 10 years flying the AV-8B Harrier II, and has about 400 hrs in the F-35 over the past 3 years.

The pilots provide unique insights, a different perspective on the F-35 and its unique capabilities.  The comments have been edited for readability with best efforts made to maintain context and integrity of intent.

F-35B launchs off the USS America (LHA-6) during "Proof of Concept" demonstration November 19, 2016.

F-35B launchs off the USS America (LHA-6) during “Proof of Concept” demonstration November 19, 2016.

On a personal level as pilots, coming from other platforms and stepping into the F-35, do you have an “aha” moment that you can share?

Guts;  My first “aha” moment was a seemingly simple thing.  I was executing a familiarization flight near MCAS Yuma.  I was coming back to the airfield and I basically just turned the jet and pointed its nose at Yuma.  Immediately the jet is providing me the information of all the traffic that is out there in the airspace.  When I talk to approach for the first time they are telling me about the traffic that is out there that I already know about and I see it.  I can tell who everybody is that he is talking about and the jet also saw traffic that ATC hadn’t seen yet and I asked about it.  And I thought, “Holy Cow!” here I am coming back to the field from a simple familiarity mission and my jet is telling me everything about the operational environment I am about to go into.  In this case, something very simple, the traffic pattern coming back there, but I didn’t have to do anything to have that level of SA [Situational Awareness].  I can start making decisions about what altitude I wanted to go to, if I wanted to turn left or right, speed up or slow down.  There’s somebody coming up next to me, I want to get in front of them – or whatever.  It is a very simple example, but I thought WOW this is amazing that I see everything and can do that.

The other was the first time I vertically recovered the airplane.  The flight control law that the airplane has is unbelievable and I always tell the anecdote.  Flying AV-8B Harrier IIs, I only had one specific aircraft I felt like I could kind of go easy on the controls and it would sit there and hover.  I love the Harrier, love flying that aircraft, but there was work involved to bring it back for a vertical landing.  The very first time I hovered an F-35B I thought, I am the problem here, and I am just going to let the jet do what it wants to do.  The F-35 was hovering better than I could ever hover a Harrier without doing a thing.  That’s back to that workload comment I said earlier.  I am performing a vertical landing, and I have the time to look around and see what is taking place on the pad and around me. It is a testament to the jet.

BC;  I was conducting a strike mission and Red Air was coming at me.  In a 4th Gen fighter you must do a whole lot of interpretation.  You see things in azimuth, and you see things in elevation.  In the F-35 you just see the God’s eye view of the whole world.  It’s very much like you are watching the briefing in real time. 

I am coming in to perform the simulated weapons release, and Red Air is coming the other direction.  I have enough situational awareness to assess whether Red Air is going to be a factor to me by the time I release the weapon.  I can make the decision, I’m going to go to the target, I’m going to release this weapon.  Simultaneously I pre-target the threat, and as soon as I release the A2G weapon, I can flip a switch with my thumb and shoot the Red Air.  This is difficult to do in a 4th Gen fighter, because there is so much manipulation of systems in the cockpit.  All while paying attention to the basic mechanics of flying the airplane and interpreting threat warnings that are often very vague, or only directional.  In the F-35 I know where the threats are, what they are and I can thread the needle.  I can tell that the adversary is out in front of me and I can make a very, very smart decision about whether to continue or get out of there.  All that, and I can very easily switch between mission sets.

Mo;  I was leading a four ship of F-35s on a strike against 4th Gen adversaries, F-16s and F/A-18s.  We fought our way in, we mapped the target, found the target, dropped JDAMs on the target and turned around and fought our way out.  All the targets got hit, nobody got detected, and all the adversaries died.  I thought, yes, this works, very, very, very well.  Never detected, nobody had any idea we were out there.

A second moment was just this past Thursday.  I spent a fair amount of my life as a tail hook guy – [landing F/A-18s on US Navy Supercarriers] on long carrier deployments.  The last 18 seconds of a Carrier landing are intense. The last 18 seconds of making a vertical landing on this much smaller USMC Assault Carrier – is a lot more relaxed.  The F-35C is doing some great stuff.  Making a vertical landing [my first this week] on the moving ship, that is much smaller than anything I’ve landed on at sea – with less stress, was awesome.

Sack;  It was my first flight at Edwards AFB Jan ’16.  I got in the airplane and started it up.  I was still on the deck and there were apparently other F-35s airborne – I believe USAF, I was not aware.  I was a single ship, just supposed to go out and get familiar flying the aircraft.  As the displays came alive there were track files and the SA as to what everyone else was doing in the airspace, and I was still on the ground.  I mean, I hadn’t even gotten my take-off clearance yet.  I didn’t even know where it was coming from.  It was coming from another F-35.  The jet had started all the systems for me and the SA was there.  That was a very eye opening moment for me.

The second one, took place when I came back from that flight.  In a Hornet you would pull into the line and had a very methodical way in which you have to shut off the airplane and the systems otherwise you could damage something.  So you have to follow a sequence, it is very methodical about which electronic system you shut off.  In the F-35 you come back, you do a couple things then you just shut the engine off, and it does everything else for you.  Sounds simple, even silly – but it is a quantum shift.

F-35Bs stacked aboard the USS America (LHA-6) during "Proof of Concept" demonstration November 19, 2016. A total of 12 F-35Bs aboard.

F-35Bs stacked aboard the USS America (LHA-6) during “Proof of Concept” demonstration November 19, 2016. A total of 12 F-35Bs aboard.

The voice of the pilots is clear – the platform is working exceptionally. The F-35 is a platform with the ultimate level of sophistication, made simple.   And therein lay the beauty of the F-35, and just why it will be so deadly, it’s simple.

This article is but a small excerpt of the complete pilots discussion of our contributors full article found at The Second Line of Defense here.

The Aviationist thanks USMC pilots; Col. George “Sack” Rowell, Lt. Col. Chad “Mo” Vaughn, Lt. Col. Rich “BC” Rusnok, and Lt. Col.  John “Guts” Price; Captain Joseph R. Olson, Commanding Officer of the USS America and entire crew; Sylvia Pierson, Brandi Schiff, JSF/JPO PA; Capt. Sarah Burns and 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, USMC PAOs;  MV-22B pilots/crew and personnel of VMX-1.

Touchdown imminent during "Proof of Concept" demonstration on the USS America (LHA-6) November 19, 2016.

Touchdown imminent during “Proof of Concept” demonstration on the USS America (LHA-6) November 19, 2016.

 

F-35B completes DT-III with Heavy Sea State & Weapons Focus

The two platforms (United States Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II and U.S. Navy USS America) represent a quantum leap in Marine aviation capability, particularly when considered in combination with the MV-22B Osprey, AH-1Z, UH-1Y and incoming CH-53K.

The fourth ship to carry the name, the USS America (LHA-6) serves as the flagship for a new class of amphibious assault ships that is built specifically to support “aerial assault.”  The LHA class utilizes the area on assault ships typically occupied by the “well deck” to provide additional hangar space, increased are for shipborne aviation maintenance, and additional aviation fuel and weapons stores.

It was fitting that the F-35B would complete its Development Testing (DT-III) on an advanced US Navy (USN) platform named “America.”

The two platforms [United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B Lightning II and USN USS America] represent a quantum leap in Marine aviation capability, particularly when considered in combination with the MV-22B Osprey, AH-1Z, UH-1Y and incoming CH-53K.

20161103-N-SS390-0xx PACIFIC OCEAN (NOV. 3, 2016) BF-1 GBU-12 External Weapons Uploading/BF-5 GBU-32 JDAM uploading Station 8 internal weapons bay.  F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft conducts test operations on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). The highly diverse cadre of Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) technicians, maintainers, engineers, logisticians, support staff and test pilots are embarked for the third and final developmental test phase (DT-III) of F-35B carrier suitability and integration. (Photo by Darin Russell/Released)

20161103-N-SS390-0xx PACIFIC OCEAN (NOV. 3, 2016) BF-1 GBU-12 External Weapons Uploading/BF-5 GBU-32 JDAM uploading Station 8 internal weapons bay. F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft conducts test operations on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). The highly diverse cadre of Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) technicians, maintainers, engineers, logisticians, support staff and test pilots are embarked for the third and final developmental test phase (DT-III) of F-35B carrier suitability and integration. (Photo by Darin Russell/Released)

Pilots, engineers, maintainers and personnel from VX-23 (Air Test and Evaluation Squadron) of NAS Patuxent River, MD flew across the country with their two heavily instrumented F-35Bs for the shipboard DT-III late October through Nov. 17, 2016.  They were joined by aircraft and personnel from VMX-1 (Marine Operational Test and Evaluation squadron) to support the maintenance phase of DT-III.  VMX-1 also participated in operational activity in preparation for the F-35Bs first shipborne deployment in about a year.

DT-III evaluated and validated the Short Take-off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) performance of the F-35B in high sea states, with full weapons loads (external & internal), with asymmetric loading (including taking off with a full load of externals, jettisoning one side and landing), live weapons and night operations.  Onboard maintenance activities involved the entire replacement of an engine, driveshaft and lift fan on one of the VMX-1 aircraft.  After replacement, the VMX-1 aircraft was flown off the deck.

20161103-N-SS390-0xx PACIFIC OCEAN (NOV. 3, 2016) An F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft conducts test operations on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). The highly diverse cadre of Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) technicians, maintainers, engineers, logisticians, support staff and test pilots are embarked for the third and final developmental test phase (DT-III) of F-35B carrier suitability and integration. (Photo by Darin Russell/Released)

20161103-N-SS390-0xx PACIFIC OCEAN (NOV. 3, 2016) An F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft conducts test operations on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). The highly diverse cadre of Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) technicians, maintainers, engineers, logisticians, support staff and test pilots are embarked for the third and final developmental test phase (DT-III) of F-35B carrier suitability and integration. (Photo by Darin Russell/Released)

USMC VMX-1 Commanding Officer, Col. George “Sack” Rowell, noted that “the F-35B will equal or exceed the shipborne operational capabilities of the AV-8B Harrier in high sea states.  Flight operations took place in winds of up to 47 knots from various angles, a deck roll of 5° and deck pitch of 3°.  Maintenance work was accomplished (albeit with challenges) while the ship was rolling 9°!”

20161107-N-SS390-0xx PACIFIC OCEAN (NOV. 7, 2016) An F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft conducts test operations on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). BF-1, Flt 614, Mr. Peter Wilsonl & BF-5, Flt 263, Major Rob Guyette test high sea states.  The highly diverse cadre of Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) technicians, maintainers, engineers, logisticians, support staff and test pilots are embarked for the third and final developmental test phase (DT-III) of F-35B carrier suitability and integration. (Photo by Darin Russell/Released)

20161107-N-SS390-0xx PACIFIC OCEAN (NOV. 7, 2016) An F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft conducts test operations on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). BF-1, Flt 614, Mr. Peter Wilsonl & BF-5, Flt 263, Major Rob Guyette test high sea states. The highly diverse cadre of Pax River Integrated Test Force (ITF) technicians, maintainers, engineers, logisticians, support staff and test pilots are embarked for the third and final developmental test phase (DT-III) of F-35B carrier suitability and integration. (Photo by Darin Russell/Released)

DT-III was a great success achieving primary DT-III flight test points as well as numerous additional milestones for the F-35B;

  • Shipborne integration of Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) V.2
  • Engine, driveshaft and lift fan removal and replacement aboard a L-Class ship
  • Live ordnance operations with the F-35B aboard a ship (from ship to MCAS Yuma Range)
  • F-35B integration with USN AEGIS validated
  • Operational Test aircraft flew Block 3F software at-sea
  • 1st Royal Navy pilot F-35B carrier qualified
  • Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS) utilized for shipborne landing
  • Use of night vision goggles (NVG) for landing
  • Link-16 Integration with a variety of aircraft

The success of the tests validates the Marine Corps experience with the aircraft to date.  USMC Lt. General Jon Davis, Deputy Commandant for Aviation Marine Corps captured that experience, “I’d deploy tomorrow. Tomorrow. The commanding officer (CO) of VFMA-211 is chomping at the bit, he would deploy them.  So would the CO of VFMA 121.  They are ready. These airplanes are highly capable and ready to go.

161104-N-VR008-0030 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 4, 2016) A Sailor directs F-35B Lightning II aircraft on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during flight operations. The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant is the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft. America, with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1), Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) embarked, are underway conducting operational testing and the third phase of developmental testing for the F-35B Lightning II aircraft, respectively. The tests will evaluate the full spectrum of joint strike fighter measures of suitability and effectiveness in an at-sea environment. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle Goldberg/Released)

161104-N-VR008-0030 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 4, 2016) A Sailor directs F-35B Lightning II aircraft on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) during flight operations. The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant is the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft. America, with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1), Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) embarked, are underway conducting operational testing and the third phase of developmental testing for the F-35B Lightning II aircraft, respectively. The tests will evaluate the full spectrum of joint strike fighter measures of suitability and effectiveness in an at-sea environment. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle Goldberg/Released)

The potent USMC/USN amphibious assault platform of F-35Bs, MV-22Bs, AH-1Z, UH-1Y and in years to come CH-53K will soon be sailing the seas.  It is natural to recognize the platforms support of a broad spectrum of military operations and missions.  However, it is important not to overlook the role the assault carriers (LHD) platforms have historically played and will continue to play; keeping sea lanes free and open for movement of global commerce, and supporting delivery around the globe of humanitarian aid following natural disasters.

The ongoing success of the USMC introduction of the F-35B fleet speaks to a certain reality. In short order, the USS America (and companion ships) will be a message sending presence to some and a welcome friend to others!

161113-N-VR008-0097 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 13, 2016) Sailors assigned to amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) prepare to launch an F-35B Lightning II aircraft from the flight deck during flight operations. The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant is the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft. America, with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1), Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) embarked, are underway conducting operational testing and the third phase of developmental testing for the F-35B Lightning II aircraft, respectively. The tests will evaluate the full spectrum of joint strike fighter measures of suitability and effectiveness in an at-sea environment. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle Goldberg/Released)

161113-N-VR008-0097 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 13, 2016) Sailors assigned to amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) prepare to launch an F-35B Lightning II aircraft from the flight deck during flight operations. The F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant is the world’s first supersonic STOVL stealth aircraft. America, with Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1), Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMFA-211) and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23) embarked, are underway conducting operational testing and the third phase of developmental testing for the F-35B Lightning II aircraft, respectively. The tests will evaluate the full spectrum of joint strike fighter measures of suitability and effectiveness in an at-sea environment. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Kyle Goldberg/Released)

The Aviationist thanks Sylvia Pierson, and Brandi Schiff, JSF/JPO PA;  Capt. Sarah Burns & 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, USMC PAOs;  Captain Joseph R. Olson, Commanding Officer of the USS America and entire crew;  Lt. General Jon M. Davis, USMC Deputy Commandant for Aviation; and USMC VMX-1 Commanding Officer, Col. George “Sack” Rowell.

DT-III was followed by a Proof of Concept at sea. Read the full story here.

 

We went aboard USS America during USMC F-35B Proof Of Concept Sea Trials

We Visited the USS America with 12 F-35Bs on Board!

The rumble of the MV-22B reverberated off the flight deck of the USS America (LHA-6).

The 12 F-35Bs onboard represented more F-35s than had ever gathered at sea. The F-35B moving steadily towards deployment represents an unprecedented leap in capability, the future of formidable maritime power.

The USS America (LHA-6) cruises off the coast of S. Cal with 10 USMC F-35Bs topside (2 more below) from VMFA-211 & VMX-1, as well as a UH-1Y, AH-1Z, & SH-60. Taken during the "Proof of Concept" demonstration Nov. 19, 2016.

The USS America (LHA-6) cruises off the coast of S. Cal with 10 USMC F-35Bs topside (2 more below) from VMFA-211 & VMX-1, as well as a UH-1Y, AH-1Z, & SH-60. Taken during the “Proof of Concept” demonstration Nov. 19, 2016.

The gathering of assets was part of a joint US Navy (USN)/ US Marine Corps (USMC) “Proof of Concept” demonstration held off the coast of Southern California Nov. 18-20.

F-35Bs from USMC VMFA-211 & VMX-1 on the deck of the USS America (LHA-6) during Carrier capability proof of concept demonstration November 19, 2016.

F-35Bs from USMC VMFA-211 & VMX-1 on the deck of the USS America (LHA-6) during Carrier capability proof of concept demonstration November 19, 2016.

PAO Capt. Sarah Burns indicated that the demonstration would explore the best way to integrate a large package of F-35Bs into the current USN/USMC structure to bring the most effective power projection from the sea.

Lt. General Jon M. Davis, Deputy Commandant for Aviation shared a core value of the Marine Corps demonstrated onboard, “No Marine Corps platform fights alone.” The F-35B, MV-22B, AH-1Z and UH-1Y combined and integrated with the US Navy’s latest amphibious assault ship (USS America) complete a package that provides the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) with a broad spectrum of response options, and the most advanced mobile warfighting capability.

F-35Bs from USMC VMFA-211 & VMX-1 on the deck of the USS America (LHA-6) during Carrier capability proof of concept demonstration November 19, 2016.

F-35Bs from USMC VMFA-211 & VMX-1 on the deck of the USS America (LHA-6) during Carrier capability proof of concept demonstration November 19, 2016.

The MV-22B Ospreys speed and range have been a game changer for the USMC MAGTF, and now with the F-35B on hand the operational possibilities take yet another quantum leap. The sea based capability provides global mobility unrestrained by availability of land bases. This integrated USN/USMC capability is ideal for the fight against terrorism, and/or the insertion of Marine infantryman or special forces deep in hostile territory.

USMC F-35B of VMFA-211 (squadron jet) in transport on the USS America (LHA-6) during the integrated USN & USMC 'proof of concept" demonstration November 19, 2016.

USMC F-35B of VMFA-211 (squadron jet) in transport on the USS America (LHA-6) during the integrated USN & USMC ‘proof of concept” demonstration November 19, 2016.

The access is increased even more given the platforms ability to quickly relocate to austere forward operating bases. Given the F-35Bs stealth, advanced sensors, situational awareness and weapons, it also provides the capability to operate in proximity of areas hosting Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) or Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) environments.

F-35B from VMFA-211 taxis to take off postion on the deck of the USS America (LHA-16 during proof of concept demonstration November19. The American Flag graphic on the America's "Conning Tower" is reflected in the F-35Bs canopy.

F-35B from VMFA-211 taxis to take off position on the deck of the USS America (LHA-16 during proof of concept demonstration November19. The American Flag graphic on the America’s “Conning Tower” is reflected in the F-35Bs canopy.

The demonstrated integration of the F-35 and the US Navy’s AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense System adds tremendous potency to an already capable system. The F-35 can provide over the horizon targeting data to a readily available USN AEGIS platform that can quickly intercept ballistic missile, drone, or hostile aircraft with its SM-6 missile (widely believed to have a range beyond 200 mile). This allows stealth detection of targets by the F-35, and a virtually unlimited (boatload) of missiles to utilize.

F-35B of USMC VMFA-211 hovers aside the USS America as it prepares for a vertical landing on deck during the integrated USN/USMC proof of concept demonstration November 19, 2016.

F-35B of USMC VMFA-211 hovers aside the USS America as it prepares for a vertical landing on deck during the integrated USN/USMC proof of concept demonstration November 19, 2016.

The F-35B replaces three Marine Corps aircraft, the F/A-18 Hornet, the EA-6B Prowler, and the AV-8B Harrier II. Not only does it do the job of each aircraft better, it adds Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR) and Command & Control (C2) capability. The F-35B fulfills the USMC vision of “every Marine Corps aircraft a sensor, a shooter and a sharer.”

USMC F-35B of VMFA-211 launches off the USS America (LHA-6) during USMC proof of concept capabiliity demonstration November 19, 2016.

USMC F-35B of VMFA-211 launches off the USS America (LHA-6) during USMC proof of concept capabiliity demonstration November 19, 2016.

Once onboard the USS America the rumbling of the Osprey was quickly replaced by the near continuous roar of F-35Bs launching and landing. The tempo of operations demonstrated the F-35Bs readiness for deployment and combat activity. That should come as no surprise given the “B” has over 22,000 combined flight hours.

The F-35B advanced flight systems reduce pilot workload and increase safety in all aspects of flight. USMC pilot Lt. Col. Rich “VC” Rusnok an experienced AV-8B Harrier II pilot and slated to become the Commanding Officer (CO) of VFMA-121 in 2017 noted that, “hovering in the Harrier was like sitting on a one-legged bar stool.” His comment was complemented by USMC pilot Lt. Col. John “Guts” Price (slated to become the CO of VFMA-122 in 2018). Price noted that his first hover in a F-35B found him realize his learned instincts in the Harrier to provide inputs created problems in the hover, and it was better to ease off the controls and let the F-35B do as it wanted! Perhaps nowhere is this ease of flying more evident than in the speed of pilots Carrier Qualifications (CQs); in the previous 4 years only 8 USMC F-35B pilots had CQ’d, in the past 3 weeks 19 pilots CQ’d!

F-35B of USMC VMFA-211 perfroms vertical landing on the USS America (LHA-6) during integrated USN/USMC "proof of concept" exercise November 19, 2016.

F-35B of USMC VMFA-211 perfroms vertical landing on the USS America (LHA-6) during integrated USN/USMC “proof of concept” exercise November 19, 2016.

The Marine Corps lead the way with the F-35 program. The deployment of VMFA-121 the “Green Knights” to Japan is motion to take place in January 2017, with further deployments slated for 2018. It all speaks to the ongoing progress and maturity of the F-35 program. This “aerial amphibious assault force” represents a new era of flexibility and capability for the MAGTF, and I anticipate we’ll regularly see the USS America serving the nations interests in strategic locations around the globe.

USMC F-35B of VMFA-211 starts its take off run on the USS America (LHA-6) during USMC proof of concept capabiliity demonstration.

USMC F-35B of VMFA-211 starts its take off run on the USS America (LHA-6) during USMC proof of concept capabiliity demonstration.

The Aviationist thanks Sylvia Pierson, and Brandi Schiff, JSF/JPO PA; Capt. Sarah Burns & 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, USMC PAOs; Captain Joseph R. Olson, Commanding Officer of the USS America and entire crew; Lt. General Jon M. Davis, USMC Deputy Commandant for Aviation; Supporting F-35B pilots of VMFA-211 & the F-35B and MV-22B pilots and personnel of VMX-1.

 

Salva

Last U.S. Air Force Phantoms make rare appearance flying through the Star Wars Canyon!

Awesome video and photographs of the last USAF Phantoms thundering through the famous Jedi Transition.

On Tuesday, Oct. 25 two USAF McDonnell Douglas QF-4E Phantom II’s made passes through “Star Wars Canyon” (Jedi Transition) in Death Valley, CA. The lead Phantom (gray and orange) was piloted by Lt. Col. Ron “Elvis” King and the second jet (green camo) was piloted by Lt. Col. (Ret) Jim “WAM” Harkins.

It was a very rare treat to see the QF-4s pass through the canyon. The Phantoms were in transit from NAS Point Mugu, CA to Hill AFB, UT and made the two passes at about 350 knots. Aviation enthusiasts are used to seeing modern and nimble aircraft such as F/A-18E/Fs and F-16s pass through the canyon and the QF-4Es did well, maneuvering aggressively in the canyon confines.

Actually even a C-17 made a series of cool passes lately

qf4_12

qf4_10

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Though bearing the markings of the Tyndall AFB based 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron (ATRS) the QF-4Es hail from Detachment 1, 82nd ATRS, based at Holloman AFB. The 82nd ATRS at Tyndall AFB has fully converted to the QF-16. The QF-4Es captured are two of seven remaining QF-4s capable of manned flight (an additional handful of remaining aircraft are capable of “unmanned” flight only).

The F-4 entered service with the US Navy in 1961, followed by the USMC and the USAF. The aircraft remained in service with the USAF through 1996 when it was retired. Subsequently many Phantoms were converted to service as manned and unmanned targets for weapons training with various USAF and DoD programs, including the White Sands Missile Range. The F-4 is one of the most successful multi-role fighter aircraft ever produced. Over 5,000 F-4s of various models were built and served in combat and keeping the peace with a variety of Air Forces around the world.

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The days of manned QF-4 flight are short and the aircraft have been making a “pharewell tour” throughout the US, appearing at several air shows and bases. The aircraft’s last manned flight is planned for December 21 at Holloman AFB in New Mexico. It is anticipated a four ship will take to the skies with roaring ‘burners, break the speed of sound, make several crowd pleasing passes – and then back to earth.

Contact the Public Affairs Officer at 49th Wing, Holloman AFB for more information on this “last phlight” media event.

Image and video credit: Johnson Yang

Johnson Yang is a photojournalist who lives and works out of S. California. Johnson previously served in the Taiwanese Airborne and is a regular contributor to Asia Pacific Defense Magazine.

We have been aboard USS George Washington during F-35C’s latest carrier trials

Report: F-35Cs Descend in Mass on the USS George Washington During DT-III.

The USS George Washington (CVN-73) is hosting the F-35C in its final Developmental Testing cycle, DT-III through Aug. 23.

However, for a couple of days the two VX-23 “Salty Dogs” F-35C Lightning IIs from NAS Patuxent River were joined by 5 F-35Cs from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” out of Eglin AFB. The 7 F-35Cs on the deck of the carrier represented the largest carrier contingent of F-35Cs to date.

F-35C from VFA-101 "Grim Reapers" performs a touch and go on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016 VX-23 "Salty Dogs" F-35C in foreground aside another VFA-101 F-35C.

F-35C from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” performs a touch and go on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016 VX-23 “Salty Dogs” F-35C in foreground aside another VFA-101 F-35C.

Media were hosted on the USS George Washington Monday, Aug. 15 to witness the pilots completing their carrier qualifications (CQs) at the onset of DT-III. All pilots embarking must perform a number of “cats” and “traps” prior to executing the specific tests involved with DT-III.

F-35C from VFA-101 "Grim Reapers" dropping from deck and into the hangar for engine change. The aircraft is 100%, just an exercise to see if anything unusual crops up. On the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016.

F-35C from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” dropping from deck and into the hangar for engine change. The aircraft is 100%, just an exercise to see if anything unusual crops up. On the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016.

DT-III includes validation of the aircraft’s flying capabilities with full internal and external stores (up to 4 GBU-12s and two AIM-9X on external hard points); handling tests with asymmetrical loads; testing for maximum weight launches (up to 65,000 lbs) at minimum power; evaluating all of these in a variety of wind and sea states.

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers getting ready to snag a 3 wire on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers getting ready to snag a 3 wire on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

As explained by Tom “Briggo” Briggs ITF (Integrated Test Force) Chief Test Engineer there were some additional aspects they wanted to evaluate. These areas to assess included shipborne evaluation of tweaks made to control laws (based on previous DT testing), shipborne logistical support and some night launches to verify adjustments made to the Gen 3 helmet performed as desired.

The ITF (Integrated Task Force) and supporting team of personnel have worked tirelessly to bring the program to this point, and yet the reality of DT-III was – “business as usual.”

Media probed for human interest stories from the cadre of pilots on board, “What was it like, after all the simulator hours and practice landings at the airfield to actually land on the ship?” From pilots who had 50 traps with the F-35C to those who had just realized their first – they struggled to provide any other answer; “no drama, no surprise, performed as expected, very vanilla, pretty easy.”

F-35C from VX-23 "Salty Dogs" arrested landing, during DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) August 15, 2016.

F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” arrested landing, during DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) August 15, 2016.

The preparation had been solid and thorough and DT-III itself was simply moving according to plan – that is if you can plan to be ahead of schedule after only 1.5 days!

F-35C from VX-23 "Salty Dogs" crosses the deck after fueling, on the way to the catapults. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” crosses the deck after fueling, on the way to the catapults. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

In many ways DT-III was “upstaged” by the appearance of VFA-101, and yet it was upstaged in a fashion that brought ultimate satisfaction to the ITF’s efforts.

As U.S. Navy Commander Ryan “Flopper” Murphy, F-35 ITF lead said, “the greatest satisfaction was to watch the fleet (VFA-101) start to utilize the aircraft.” After all, that was the point of all the years of work; to equip and empower the Fleet with the F-35C.

160814-N-XW558-090 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) Lt. William Bowen taxis in an F-35C Lightning II carrier variant, assigned to the Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VX-23 is conducting its third and final development test (DT-III) phase aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex L. Smedegard)

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ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) Lt. William Bowen taxis in an F-35C Lightning II carrier variant, assigned to the Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VX-23 is conducting its third and final development test (DT-III) phase aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex L. Smedegard)

12 VFA-101 pilots with 5 F-35Cs completed their CQs in just over 1.5 days. As Capt. James Christie of VFA-101 described, that includes 10 landings and 2 touch and gos each. A total of 120 cats, 120 traps and 24 touch and goes. Simultaneously the 5 VX-23 pilots performed their CQs. F-35Cs were all over the carriers deck, moving, landing, and launching – much like I would imagine an operational tempo.

F-35C from VX-23 "Salty Dogs" waits to cross the deck for fueling. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” waits to cross the deck for fueling. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

There were instances of hot refueling, with pilot changes during refuel and the aircraft cycling back for more CQs.

As VX-23 F-35C pilot Ted “Dutch” Dyckman explained, everybody completed their CQs faster than with the Hornet or Super Hornet. The additional fuel on the F-35C, the ease of landing due to Delta Flight Path mode, along with aircraft reliability all played a part in the accelerated CQs.

The innovative “Delta Flight Path” mode that is engaged on approach alters the F-35C control laws, setting auto throttles and maintaining the optimal 3 degree glide slope to landing. This approach makes landing on the carrier much easier, and pilots were hitting the desired 3 wire virtually 100% of the time.

160814-N-MY901-131 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant assigned to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy’s F-35C Fleet replacement squadron, lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VFA-101 aircraft and pilots are conducting initial qualifications aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Krystofer Belknap)

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ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant assigned to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy’s F-35C Fleet replacement squadron, lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VFA-101 aircraft and pilots are conducting initial qualifications aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Krystofer Belknap)

Delta Flight Path utilizes the flaps to add or decrease lift during approach to maintain the glide slope. Observers can see a tremendous amount of flap movement during the aircrafts approach to the deck.

These movements are all controlled by the computer to provide the pilot what they want – stable glideslope to the deck. The F/A-18E/F and EA-18G control laws are being modified to feature the same Delta Flight path in an initiative called “Magic Carpet.”

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers crosses the deck for fueling on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers crosses the deck for fueling on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

As Briggs explained, DT-III is to prepare the aircraft launch and recovery bulletins (ALB/ARB). These are the operating guides the Navy will utilize to determine the appropriate launch and recovery parameters for the aircraft, given weights and conditions. These bulletins are required for operations, and ensure the aircraft can safely launch and recover with the desired loads to complete assigned missions.

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers landing on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers landing on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

Recently appointed to the new position, Director of Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration, Rear Admiral Roy “Trigger” Kelley was also aboard the USS George Washington. Kelley will be directing the F-35C program towards IOC between August 2018 and Feb 2019. Kelley is excited about the capabilities the F-35C will bring to the Fleet; first day access into contested areas that host sophisticated integrated air defense systems; the ability to utilize stealth and sensors to define the battlespace combined with advanced command and control capabilities that will empower the entire fleet.

DT-III is a significant milestone, and it is clear the F-35C is now tracking very quickly and methodically to a IOC with the U.S. Navy.

F-35C from VX-23 "Salty Dogs" executes a last second wave-off with F-35Cs from VX-23 and VFA-101 "Grim Reapers" in background. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” executes a last second wave-off with F-35Cs from VX-23 and VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” in background. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

The Aviationist would like to thank the following for their support: Sylvia Pierson, F-35 ITF/JPO PA; CDR Dave Hecht, Naval Air Force Atlantic PAO; Capt. Timothy Kuehhas, CO USS George Washington; and the many supporting PAOs on and off shore, pilots, engineers, and C-2 Greyhound crews. The entire US Navy team were professional, gracious hosts.

Image credit: U.S. Navy and Todd Miller

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