Tag Archives: F-35

Typhoon’s super sci-fi helmet: a (supposedly) unnecessary extra feature on the F-22

When I first saw this picture (taken by contributor Nicola Ruffino), I immediately thought that the Eurofighter Typhoon’s Helmet Mounted Symbology System (HMSS), is not only quite advanced, if compared to the the American JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System), but it is also so ugly and bumpy that let the backseater look like a sort of Hellboy (a comic book superhero).


Even if they implement the same basic features, compared to the American JHMCS (Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System) (that was developed earlier and became operational beginning in the late ’90s), the Typhoon’s HMSS features lower latency, higher definition, improved symbology and night vision.

Both the JHMCS and the HMSS provide the essential flight and weapon aiming information through line of sight imagery. Information imagery (including aircraft’s airspeed, altitude, weapons status, aiming etc) are projected on the visor (the HEA – Helmet Equipment Assembly – for the Typhoon) , enabling the pilot to look out in any direction with all the required data always in his field of vision.

Noteworthy, although it is integrated in U.S. F-15C/D, F-16  Block 40 and 50 and F-18C/D/E/F, the F-22 Raptor doesn’t need a JHMCS. There are various reasons why the most advanced (and much troubled) air superiority fighter lacks it and the HOBS (High Off-Boresight) weapons: confidence that capability was not needed since no opponents would get close enough to be engaged with an AIM-9X in a cone more than 80 degrees to either side of the nose of the aircraft; limited head space below the canopy; the use of missiles carried inside ventral bays whose sensor can’t provide aiming to the system until they are ejected. And also various integration problems that brought the Air Force to cancel funding.

Did the F-22 need HOBS? Sure, as it would have improved its lethality even further. Indeed, although simulated 1 F-22 vs 3 JHMCS F-16Cs engagements proved that the Raptor can master even challenging scenarios such an extra feature would have been a useful addition when facing large formations of Gen. 5 fighters like the Chinese J-20.

In fact as I’ve already written on this blog, “quantity” rather than “quality” should worry U.S. fighter planes in the future:

“the real problem for the US with the J-20 is not with the aircraft’s performances, equipment and capabilities (even if the US legacy fighters were designed 20 years earlier than current Chinese or Russian fighters of the same “class”); the problem is that China will probably build thousands of them.”

Left image: U.S. Air Force

By the way, the multi-role F-35 will get a HMDS (Helmet Mounted Display System): all of the plane’s sensors along with a set of cameras mounted on the jet’s outer surfaces feed the system providing the pilot with a X-ray vision-like imagery: he can see in all directions, and through any surface, with all the information needed to fly the plane and to cue weapons projected onto the visor.

Although the JHMCS is quite common all around the world, the Typhoon’s HMSS is obviously more rare. A good opportunity to see this helmet in action in the U.S. could come in the next years, following the German Air Force plan to base 24 Eurofighter Typhoons at Holloman Air Force Base, at the German Air Force Flying Training Center established in 1958. The Typhoons will be used to train German pilots on the type, as done with the Tornados, that the GAF expects to keep in New Mexico until 2019.

Image: Eurofighter

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.

Italian Navy AV-8B+ Harrier 20th anniversary

On Oct. 27, 2011, with a ceremony at Grottaglie airbase, near Taranto, the Marina Militare (Italian Navy) celebrates the 20th anniversary of the Harrier in Italian service. The AV-8B+ Harriers of the I GrupAer have recently taken part to the Operation Unified Protector in Libya, performing both DCA (Defensive Counter Air) and BAI (Battlefield Air Interdiction) out of the Garibaldi aircraft carrier.

Above images courtesy of the Marina Militare

When I tweeted the news of the 20th anniversary on Twitter, many of my followers replied with comments dealing with the much criticised British Strategic Defense and Security Review that, more or less one year ago, scrapped the entire “Jump Jet” fleet, leaving the UK with no aircraft to equip aircraft carriers (hence, with no maritime strike capability) until 2020.

With the SDSR, the UK reduced its planned buy of F-35s and abandoned the F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) version of the JSF for the carrier variant F-35C. The abandonment of the F-35B is tied to the decision to convert one of the two future British aircraft carriers in a “cat and trap” supercarrier, hence able to launch the planes by means of a catapult and to recover them by means of an arresting gear system.

According to the current plans, the ItAF will be equipped with both the conventional F-35A and the F-35B STOVL variant, while the Italian Navy will procure only the STOVL version for its current and future aircraft carriers. However, in spite of the current trials at seathe future of the F-35B is quite uncertain and there is still a possibility that the Marina Militare will have to opt for a “Plan B” if the STOVL version will be scrapped at the end of the 2-year probation announced by former US Sec Def Robert Gates on Jan. 6, 2011.

What about purchasing some retired-but-still-perfectly-airworthy RAF Harrier GR9s before they are all sold for spares? The Italian Navy would lose the air defense capability (since the GR9 is an air-to-ground combat plane) but it will retain a jet plane capable to operate from its aircraft carriers in the strike and CAS (Close Air Support) roles.

I’d start negotiating a trade-in price….:-)

Last RAF/RN Harrier GR9 operational flight took place at RAF Cottesmore on Dec. 15, 2010. The following video is the best I’ve seen so far about the Jump Jet farewell flight.

A new breed of fighter pilots for easy-to-fly high tech fighter jets

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