Category Archives: F-35

Touch screen, voice activated commands, portal. A new smartphone or tablet? No, the Lockheed Martin F-35's glass cockpit.

Look at the following image.

Included in the “F-35 from the Cockpit” webminar held on Jan. 18, the screenshot gives an idea of the Joint Strike Fighter glass cockpit featuring full touch screen, HOTAS, voice activated commands, system monitoring with all information displayed on a “portal” that make the most advanced (and expensive) 5th generation aircraft ever built, “amazingly easy to fly” as F-35 Test Pilot Bill Gigliotti said during the webminar.

As I witnessed some years ago in the F-35 Cockpit Demonstrator, the combat flight simulator-like symbology, combined with a Helmet Mounted Display with the 360° view of the battlespace, that correlates images coming from a set of cameras mounted on the jet’s outer surfaces, giving the pilot the ability to see in all directions, through any surface, as if it was equipped with x-ray vision, gives the pilot the opportunity to fulfil every kind of mission with the so-called Total Situational Awareness.

During the webminar, that featured also by F-35 Chief Test Pilot Alan (Al) Norman as speaker, Lockheed affirmed they are sure the F-35C will be able to land on a carrier since they are waiting the new testing campaign to validate it.

On a question about the dogfighting capabilities of the F-35 in relation to a Sukhoi Su-37: “they are years behind us.”

In the meanwhile LM has released on Flickr the first night flying pictures of the F-35.

Above images: courtesy Lockheed Martin

"F-35C unable to land aboard aircraft carriers" report says. U.S. Navy and Royal Navy have something to be worried about.

As highlighted by an interesting article published on F-16.net, among all the other flaws listed in the JSF Concurrency Quick Look Review dated 29 November 2011 (an official document recently leaked), there is one issue that might have a significant impact on American and British naval aviation’s future plane.

According to the leaked report, the F-35C, the variant developed for the U.S. Navy (and chosen by the UK for its future aircraft carrier), is unable to get aboard a flattop because of its tailhook design issues.

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. Considered that arrestment testing takes place on a normal airport, without the thrill of bad weather, pitching deck, nearby obstacles, low fuel, lack of alternate airfields and all those factors that make a trap on an aircraft carrier the scariest kind of flying.

Root cause analysis points to some AHS (Arresting Hook System) design issues:

  1. aircraft geometry (short distance between the Main Landing Gear tires and the tailook point)
  2. tailkook point design, with scarce ability to scoop low positioned cables
  3. 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 is too short and the responsive dynamics are such that the cable lies nearly flat on the deck by the time the tailkook point should intercept it for arrestment.

Although the current F-35C tailhook point design was based on that of the Hornet, the F-18 geometry places the distance of its main landing gear to tailhook point at 18.2 feet, a longer distance where the trampled cable has enough time to respond and flex back to its original position.

To address the tailhook issues, the tailhook point and hold down damper components will be redesigned and tested at NAWC-AD, Lakehurst in April 2012.

Most probably, LM engineers will find a way to fix the AHS problem.

However, “if the proposed redesigned components do not prove to be compatible with MK-7 arresting gear, then significant redesign impacts will ensue. Accordingly, the program is conducting a formal trade study to assess options beyond AHS redesign. One option includes adjustments of AHS airframe location. However, since arrestment loads are significant and the aircraft has certain constraints with respect to engine location and survivability considerations, any readjustment of AHS location will have major, direct primary and secondary structure impacts” report says.

While the X-47B UCAV has a longer MLG to tailhook distance (longer than the TA-4J) than the F-35, meaning that it should not be affected by the same problem, maybe the UK Royal Navy is still in time to design its future carrier’s arresting gear to comply with the F-35C’s AHS. Or revert back to the F-35B….:-)

Image source: Lockheed Martin

F-35 targeted in potential military cuts. If Italy quits, will the stealth plane ever be affordable?

With a new set of austerity measures aimed at saving up to $25 billion to balance the budget by 2013 (and avoid a catastrophic default that would put the entire Euro-zone at risk) just approved, Italy could be soon compelled to review many of its future defense projects.

Even if the new Defense Minister, Adm. Di Paola pointed to a significant cut in terms of personnel, as the most important measure to preserve Italy’s capability to sustain current projects as well as internal and foreign missions, the amount of lawmakers among all political forces who advocate further weapon cuts has grown in the last few days.

The priority targets for cuts this days have been already identified: the Lockheed Martin F-35, that the Italian Air Force and Navy would like to use to replace the AMX, the Tornado and the AV-8B+ Harrier fleets (in other words, the only air-to-surface assets Italy can employ in Crisis Support Operations); and the Cavour, the second and most modern Italian aircraft carrier destined to be equipped with the much troubled F-35B, the STOVL (Short Take Off and Vertical Landing) version of the Joint Strike Fighter.

Dealing with the F-35, Italy has planned a purchase of 131 F-35s, worth about 15 billion Euro. Of those, 20-22 are supposed to be the Harrier replacement on the Cavour while the rest should be conventional A planes. The Air Force is interested in both the A and B version.

Both right and left-wing parties are becoming more critical about Italy’s involvement in the F-35 program arguing that the stealth fighter is a waste of money for a country on the verge of financial collapse. In their opinion, Italy should leave the program and lose the 2.5 billion Euro already invested in the development to save the 13 needed for production. Furthermore, “Italy is not about to attack anyone”, hence there is no need for such an expensive defense investment.

More or less the same words were used to criticize the aircraft carrier, that costs the Italian taxpayers 100,000 Euro each day (when docked; 200,000 Euro/day when on cruise).

For sure, the F-35 is a costly and uncertain program. However, some of its problems and delays deals with the advanced technology that this innovative aircraft integrates. Hence,  the decision to quit the program should be weighed heavily. If this aircraft survives, it will be the backbone of the U.S. attack fleet, replacing several aircraft types; if Italy confirms its involvement procuring “some” F-35s, it will have the opportunity to develop, operate and evaluate the future most advanced (and costly) combat plane.

Sooner or later Italy will be compelled to replace its ageing fleet of attack planes. Even if one of the Lessons Identified in Libya was the need for a light and cheap aircraft like the AMX to sustain long lasting air wars, current planes can’t live forever nor can be continuously upgraded to keep them in service for 3 or 4 decades.

When the moment arrives, there won’t be many options. One of them is using an upgraded Typhoon, a multirole non-stealth fighter plane of the so-called 4+ generation that, when required to replace the above mentioned Italian attack planes, will have to face 5th if not 6th generation manned and unmanned stealth fighters made of morphing metals and flight surfaces featuring some Star Wars-like equipment.

Nor the problem of replacing the Harriers on the Cavour should be underestimated. Since all the former RAF jump jets were purchased by the USMC, there will be few options if Italy quits: either second or third-hand AV-8Bs or a navalised Typhoon like the one offered to India (provided this version will ever be developed and compatible with the Italian ship).

Above all, Italy should remember how much the decision to keep the F-104 in service for 40 years has cost to the Italian Air Force, equipped with a jurassic fighter almost useless in real operations not even capable to ensure an effective air defense service at home. When it became evident that the amazing Starfighter could not be updated any more two gap fillers had to be hired until the Eurofighter Typhoon became available. A costly and painful move.

Although it’s still unclear whether Italy will simply downsize its procurement or withdraw from the program, what’s certain is that every canceled Italian plane will increase the costs of the remainder making their unit price if not unaffordable, less affordable.

Unit price depends also on the foreign sales. U.S. have commitments from allies to buy as many as 500 jets. Moreover, Japan has selected the F-35 as the future F-X and Lockheed Martin will build 42 stealth planes for the JASDF, a breath of fresh air that would be completely wiped out by an Italian withdrawal.

The Economist has already warned that the program is in danger of slipping into the “death spiral” where increasing unit costs would lead to cuts in number of ordered plane, leading to further costs that would boost order cuts.

In the meanwhile, the average price of each plane in “then-year” dollars has risen from $69m in 2001 to $133 million in 2011, a price that has been already declared unaffordable by Pentagon’s top weapons buyer Ashton Carter who talked to the Senate Armed Services committee in May 2011.

Image source: Lockheed Martin

Is the F-35 stealth jet so advanced that it can be flown using one hand only? Picture raise question

Do you remember HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick)?

Ok, forget it.

As the following  Lockheed Martin picture shows, the F-35B, the (most costly) Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter, is not only pretty easy to fly as I witnessed in a ride on board the JSF Cockpit Demo, but it embodies so much advanced technology to be flown by the pilot with only one hand (resting his left one).

Obviously I’m kidding.

Indeed the above picture depicts Marine Corps Maj. Richard Rusnok on board the second F-35B test aircraft “BF-4” as he returns to land aboard USS Wasp on Oct.6, 2011, during STOVL ship suitability testing aboard the land amphibious assault ship off the coast of Virginia. He’s simply resting his left arm on the canopy edge. As someone commented, at least this shows that the F-35 cockpit is quite comfortable!

However a funny image about the F-35 (especially after publishing the famous “F-35 Garbage” picture that someone saw as disrespectful….?!) gives me the opportunity to talk about a standard feature of all the most recent generations of fighters.

Hands On Throttle And Stick is the concept according to which all the vital switches and buttons a combat pilot needs to access the radar functions, the weapon control and flight managent systems, the attack and identification systems, the radio and navigation equipment, etc, are placed on the flight control stick and engine throttle, allowing him/her to give inputs to the onboard computers without having to remove a hand from the flight controls.

Coupled with a JHMCS (joint helmet-mounted cueing system), HOTAS enables the pilot to perform a high-G turn while using the throttle to obtain the desired thrust and switch from the air-to-ground to the air-to-air mode (and vice versa) and cue onboard weapons against enemy aircraft or ground vehicles merely by pointing his head at the target to guide the weapons.

Some aircraft as the Typhoon, use the DVI (Direct Voice Input) creating an integrated system dubbed VTAS (Voice Throttle And Stick). In VTAS cockpits, voice can be used to control some non-critical systems reducing pilot workload and removing the need for him to look down at any of the MFD (Multi-Function Displays).

DVI is affected by in-flight environment noise and has to cope with quick voice level variability under high-G stress, different types of microphones with different frequency responses, and also different type of English (English spoken by an American or British pilot is sensibly different from the one of a Spanish or Italian one). So far, I’ve never heard of VTAS being effectively used in combat, but most probably, DVI will be extensively used in the next years and even the F-35 should have a speech recognition system in the future.

Naturally, there are some phases of the flight that don’t require the pilot to keep the hands on the flight controls. Sometimes pilots leave the control stick free although its position is not kept by the autopilot.

For instance, during catapult launches from aircraft carriers, after rudders have been deflected for take off, F-18 pilots are required to hang on a handle on the cockpit mount in order to prevent the quick acceleration inducing some involuntary movement on the flight control stick.

F-35: an expensive hard-to-recycle form of garbage?

I find the following picture rather funny. It was taken at Seoul Air Show and shows a Lockheed F-35 Lightning II….with a “garbage” sign posted on the barrier in front of the plane. Obviously it’s only a matter of perspective, but I must admit that the signs seems to be an explainatory panel like the ones you can find next to the airplanes in static display. The person who took this picture and sent it to me has a sense of humour (and knows how to tease a competitor).

The F-35 is in fact among the candidates for S. Korea’s next generation fighter, known as FX-III project with a budget of 8.29 trillion won (7.86 billion USD) for 60 jets. It competes with the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Boeing F-15SE and Sukhoi T50 PAK-FA (yes, the Russia’s 5th generation fighter plane, that was forced to abort take off after at MAKS 2011 air show on Aug. 21, at Ramenskoye air base, near Moscow.

Initially seen as the favorite candidate, the F-35 has been recently questioned because of the delays and the high unit cost. As reported by the Seoul Daily on Sept. 16, a high raking DAPA (Defense Acquisition Program Administration) recently said “A fighter, which is not detected by the radar system, but low in strike capability, will not be effective. We will not necessarily insist on stealth function”, a remark that undermined one of the cornerstones of Lockheed’s appearant advantage over competitors.

Competitors that didn’t miss the chance to take a picture that ridiculed the still dangerous opponent.

PS Please don’t send me tons of emails to tell me why I’m against the F-35. It’s just a humorous picture.