Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

South Dakota ANG F-16C jets (including one in new F-35-like dark grey color scheme) arrive at RAF Mildenhall

Four SD ANG F-16Cs returning from Poland have arrived in the UK. One of them sports the brand new overall grey color scheme aimed at reducing the aircraft’s RCS (Radar Cross Section).

Four F-16Cs from the South Dakota ANG 175th Fighter Squadron of 114th Fighter Wing have taken part in a deployment to Lask airbase, Poland, where they arrived on Sept. 3.

The purpose of their visit was to participate in the bilateral training exercise “Aviation Detachment 16-4”. They were also accompanied by 100 associated members of unit.

On Sept. 24, the four Vipers arrived at RAF Mildenhall, UK, apparently due to problems with a KC-10 tanker. Interestingly, one of them 88-0428 sported fancy Tail Markings as the Commanders aircraft while another one (88-0422), was painted in a new F-35-like dark grey color scheme (the other two aircraft were 88-0932 and 88-0463.)

f-16-sd-ang-2

Actually, the paint job similar to the one of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been applied to U.S. F-16s since at least 2012 when it started to appear on the F-16CM (formerly CJ) Block 50 Fighting Falcon aircraft.

Called “Have Glass 5th generation” or “Have Glass V” the paint scheme is the evolution of the standard Have Glass applied to 1,700 “Vipers”: all the F-16s are covered with RAM (Radar Absorbent Material) paint, made of microscopic metal grains that can degrade the radar signature of the aircraft.

Image credit: Tony Lovelock

DOT&E leaked memo suggests F-35 May Never Be Ready for Combat. F-35 pilot doesn’t agree.

Here’s the latest chapter of the saga: F-35  pilot counters Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) leaked memo.

Three weeks ago, a memo dated Aug. 9 (one week after the Air Force declared the IOC – Initial Operational Capability – of the F-35A) by Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational testing, obtained by Bloomberg News, highlighted several deficiencies.

“The program is actually not on a path toward success but instead on a path toward failing to deliver the full Block 3F capabilities for which the Department is paying almost $400 billion by the scheduled end of System Development and Demonstration (SDD) in 2018.”

According to chief of the Pentagon’s top testing office, at least 15 capabilities in the F-35’s current software version, known as Block 3i, are either still in need of a fix or aren’t ready for testing.

“Unresolved Block 3i deficiencies in fusion, electronic warfare, and weapons employment continue to result in ambiguous threat displays, limited ability to effectively respond to threats, and, in some cases, a requirement for off-board sources to provide accurate coordinates for precision attack. Although the program recently addressed some of the Block 3i deficiencies, many significant deficiencies remain and more are being identified by operational test and fielded units, many of which must be corrected if the program is going to provide the expected “full warfighting capability” described in the Operational
Requirements Document (ORD).”

The memo provides details about all the hundred deficiencies in Block 3i.

“Because Block 3i is an interim capability based on Block 2B, it has numerous inherent limitations that will reduce operational effectiveness and require workarounds if the F-35A in the Block 3i configuration is used in combat.”

There are limitations in the capability to perform Close Air Support missions (in a permissive or low-threat environment); limited weapon load; no gun capability; limited night vision capability; greater reliance on tankers due to limited on-station time; unacceptable sensor fusion; etc. You can read them all here.

A subsequent POGO article provided an in-depth analysis of the above mentioned memo with the following conclusion: “This DOT&E memo clearly exposes the Air Force’s F-35 IOC announcement as nothing more than a publicity stunt.”

On Sept. 16, a new story written by Major Morten “Dolby” Hanche, the famous Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35 pilot who provided first-hand accounts of what dogfighting in the controversial F-35 looks like to a pilot with a significant experience with the F-16, has been published by Kampflybloggen (The Combat Aircraft Blog), the official blog of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office within the Norwegian Ministry of Defence.

In the new post (reposted below under permission) Maj. Hanche, a U.S. Navy Test Pilot School graduate with more than 2,200 hours in the F-16, currently flying as Assistant Weapons Officer with the U.S. Air Force’s 62nd Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, provides his take on the DOT&E memo.

Once again: “Dolby” is an F-35 instructor pilot from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, one of the Joint Strike Fighter customers. Needless to say, he may have a bias for his plane. Still, he’s a respected test pilot, making public claims and providing tons of interesting details about the aircraft that will help you making your own opinion on such a hotly debated topic.

Lack of perfection does not mean disaster – how I read test reports as a pilot

by Morten Hanche

Yet again, information from the «Director Operational Test & Evaluation» (DOT&E) has stirred critics into a frenzy over the F-35. The fact that the information was leaked seems to have agitated people even more. (We have our hands on classified documents!  Now we know it all!)  Yet again, the leaked memo described aspects of the F-35 which need improvement.  Yet again, the report resulted in press articles which painted a pretty sinister picture of the F-35.  The article featured in POGO («F-35 May Never Be Ready for Combat») serves as one such example.

I finished up writing this article before getting ready to fly another sortie in the F-35. Based on my own experiences flying the F-35A, I feel that the media´s interpretation of the previous DOT&E report is influenced heavily by unrealistic expectations – something which seems to be a trend.  I don´t see the point in countering every claim that´s being brought up.  First off, it´d make for a very long article.  Secondly, I would not be dealing with the bigger problem, which in my mind is a lack of understanding.

I fully expect the F-35’s most hardened critics to discount this article, regardless of what I write. However, some may choose to believe my story, based on the fact that I know the airplane and its capabilities as a pilot.  I don’t make my claims based on bits and pieces of information, derived from potentially unreliable sources.  They are based on experience actually flying and training with the jet for nearly a year

My goal is to shed some light on airplane development and testing; why we test, what we discover in testing and what a test report may result in. I write this based on my own experience, both through education at the US Naval Test Pilot School, but more importantly through working with the F-16 and the F-35, both operationally and in test settings.

What smartphones tell us about technology development

I´ll start with smartphones, as another example of technology development. Admittedly, phones are somewhat different from a fighter airplane, but there are similarities.  A smartphone is a complex system of systems – just like a fighter jet.  The phones keep evolving with both new hard- and software.  It is not unheard of therefore that the manufacturers issue updates.  Updates which provide new capabilities, but which also aim to correct previous errors.

According to Wikipedia, Apple released its iOS 9.0 operating system to their iPhones and iPads on 16 September 2015. The 9.0.1 update was issued already on 23 September, followed closely by the 9.0.2 update on 30 September.  Then 9.1 on 21 October and 9.2 on 8 December 2015.

Such a frequent update rate might indicate that not everything worked perfectly from the start. Still, wouldn´t it be a bit harsh to claim that the phones didn´t work with the first four software versions?  Might the truth be a little more nuanced?  Can a smartphone be a good product, even if it doesn´t work 100% from day one?  Does a smartphone ever work 100%?  I have experienced various strange occurences with my phones over the years. Still, for me, having a phone with all its peculiarities has been more useful than the alternative – not having a phone.

This isn’t an article about phones. The point I´m trying to make is that technology development and testing is a series of compromises; compromises in reliability, in performance and in quality.  Only rarely is the world black or white.  A machine may work well, even if it doesn´t fulfill all specifications.  I´ll go on with a brief intro to how we typically test.

…technology development and testing is a series of compromises; compromise in reliability, in performance and in quality.  Only rarely is the world black or white.  A machine may work well, even if it doesn´t fulfill all specifications.

How we test a fighter jet

Testing of combat aircraft typically sees a disctinction between Developmental Test (DT) and Operational Test (OT). In short we can say that DT seeks to answer whether the machine works according to the design specifications, whether the machine is safe to operate and what its safe operating limits end up being.  OT on the other hand seeks to find out whether the machine can solve a particular task, like: «Is the X-YZ able to provide effective Close Air Support, in the presence of threat A, B and C?»

The test program for a machine like the F-35 is an enormous undertaking. The contours of the F-35´s test program are described top-level in the Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP), totaling 1400 pages.  Each sub-test in the TEMP results in a detailed test plan for that event.  Especially in DT, a test flight is literally planned down to the minute, in order to accomplish as many test points as quickly and safely as possible.  Flight testing is an expensive undertaking.

A test program should discover most important errors and flaws. However, time and resources available make it unrealistic to uncover every single issue.  Risk is mitigated by testing the most critical components, like the engine in a single-engined fighter, to stricter tolerances.  The amount of testing is a statistically driven decision.  We know that there are things we don´t know, even at the completion of testing.  We also know that there are likely few gross or dangerous errors which haven´t been found.

Each error we find during testing is documented and characterized. The language and format used is to the point.  The test engineer and test pilot type up their findings and typically describe the situation «in a vacuum» – without regard for how costly or difficult it might be to address the issue.  Each issue is then related to the mission – how will this quality or problem affect the given task?

Such a test report might read something like: «The SuperToaster 3000 was evaluated for uniform heat distribution and time to crispy toast, at the National Toast Center of Excellence, with room temperatures varying between 65 and 75 deg F. The toasting temperature was selected by turning a dial on the front of the toaster.  Even with full crispyness selected, the toaster´s maximum temperature was low, and toasting of even the thinnest slices of white bread took more than 10 minutes.  During early morning breakfasts, the time consuming toasting process will result in cranky parents, the kids being dropped off late for school and correspondingly negative effects on their grades and later career opportunities.»

This mission relation was probably a little over-the-top – a little like how some media articles relate its tidbits of information to an imagined F-35 mission.  In isolation, a system may not work as advertised, but could there be a workaround?  (In the toaster-case, maybe cereal for breakfast?)

Anyway, after the issue is documented, the errors are then catalogued, debated over and prioritized. Test engineers, test pilots, design engineers and customer representatives are often involved in the dialogue that follows when something undesirable is discovered.  Together, these will have to agree on a path forward.  Completely understanding the issue is crucial.  Alternatives could be a re-design, accepting the flaw, mitigating the flaw procedurally or compensating by documenting the issue better. The team will have to compromise when prioritizing.  Even when developing a new fighter jet, there are limits to what can be fixed, based on cost, time available, test resources available and also the complexity of the problem.  Altogether, development and testing is an iterative process, where adjustments may have to take place during DT, OT or after the system is put into operational service.

Where are we with the F-35?

What is then the current state of the F-35? Is it really as bad as the commentaries to the DOT&E report and DOT&E memo might indicate?

Personally, I am impressed by the the F-35. I was relieved to experience just how well the F-35 performs with regard to speed, ceiling, range and maneuverability.  It would have been very problematic if the airplane´s performance didn´t hold up in these areas – there´s just no software update which is going to compensate a draggy airframe or a weak engine.  (Read more about such a case in the Government Accountability Office, then the General Accounting Office´s report on the Super Hornet).

When asked about my first flight in the F-35, I compared it to flying a Hornet (F/A-18), but with a turbo charged engine. I now can quote a USMC F/A-18 Weapons School Graduate after his first flight in the F-35: «It was like flying a Hornet with four engines!» (His point being that the F-35 can afford to operate at high Angle-of-Attack and low airspeed, but that it will regain the airspeed quickly when needed).  Another unintended, but illustrating example on performance came a few weeks back, when a student pilot failed to recognize that he had climbed through our temporary altitude restriction at 40,000´. The F-35 will happily climb past that altitude.

Another critical aspect of the F-35 is its minimal radar signature. Just as with the aerodynamic performance, the «stealthiness» of the F-35 is an inherent quality of the airframe itself. There would be no quick-fix to a disappointing signature. So far, my impression is that the F-35 is very difficult to find. We see this every day when training with the F-35; we detect the F-16s flying in the local airspace at vast ranges, compared to when we detect another F-35.

Sensor stability, and specifically radar stability, has been an issue. I´m not trying to downplay that the radar´s stability needs to improve, but I am not worried. What would have worried me was if the radar had poor detection range, or if the stability issues were caused by «external» factors like limited electrical power supply or limited cooling available. Fortunately, our biggest issues are related to software, and not performance.  I think it´s realistic to expect software issues like this to be resolved (just like iOS 9 eventually ended up working well).

Remember that we´re not trying to re-create another «Fourth Gen» fighter in the F-35. If we had set our aim lower, we´d likely have had an easier job of developing the airplane – it would have been easier to build the F-16 again today.  But is that what we need?  The F-35´s specifications are ambitious, and reflect a machine which will outperform the previous generation of fighters.  Having or not having that kind of military advantage eventually becomes a political question.  For now, our leaders think we need that military edge.

In this context, I would like to bring up another point. The F-35 is in its infancy as a weapons system.  Yet, it is being compared to mature systems like the F-16. The F-16 has been developed and improved for more than 40 years.  Correspondingly, certain aspects of the F-16 are more mature than the F-35 at this time.  Having said that, I will caution readers against believing that other and «mature» fighters are without their issues.  There has been an unprecedented openness about the F-35´s development.  The DOT&E report is one example on how media has gained insight into the F-35 Program.  I still ask; do those who write critical articles about the program really have a realistic baseline, from which they can reasonably assess the F-35?  Next, I´ll give some examples which have influenced at least my own baseline.

The sometimes messy world of fighter development

Credit: RoNAF

Many will agree that the F-16 has been a successful fighter design. The fact that it has been continuously produced since the 1970s should speak for itself.  The fighter has come a long way from where it originally started; as a day-only «dogfighter», equipped with heat-seeking missiles.  (How would that mission set compare to a post System Development & Demonstration Block 3F F-35 and its mission sets?)  Modifications to the «fully developed» F-16 started right away  One early and visible modification was the replacement of the horizontal stabilizers with larger «stabs», in order to reduce the F-16´s susceptibility to go out of control during aggressive maneuvering at high Angles-of-Attack (AOA).  Going out of control is a bad thing, and could lead to loss of both the jet and its pilot.  Since then, the F-16 has kept evolving through many different programs, aimed at improving both structural life and combat capabilities.Other fighters also bear visible marks of error correction. The Hornet-family provides some good examples of aerodynamic «band aids».  An example from the F/A-18 «Baby Hornet» is the vertical «fences» mounted on each side of the machine, just aft of the cockpit.  These were eventually added to mitigate stress on the vertical tails, which caused their supporting structure to fail.

Credit: U.S. Navy

Another example from the Baby Hornet is how the stabs and rudders are driven to full deflection before takeoff. This modification was necessary to enable the Hornet to lift its nose during takeoff roll. The «band aid» added drag during the takeoff roll. Thus, the takeoff roll increased in distance, but no more than what was considered acceptable.  The «band aid» was an easy workaround to what could have been a very costly re-design of the airplane – compromises…

The more modern Super Hornet has a porous fairing where the wing-fold mechanism is located.  This was fitted in an attempt to alleviate a problem termed «wing drop».  The wing drop in the Super Hornet was described as an abrupt and uncommanded roll, which hampered air combat maneuvering.  The «band aid» partially fixed the wing drop issue, but at the same time introduced other problems related to reduced range and increased buffet levels.  These were still deemed acceptable trade-offs – compromises…

Even today, our modern-day F-16s live with many issues; errors which were discovered in DT, OT or operational use, but which haven´t been corrected. Either because of prohibitive cost, complexity or because no one understands the failure mechanism – what is causing the problem.  I´m not just talking about cosmetic or minor issues.  One example is that The Norwegian Armed Forces for a period of about 10 years could not operate its F-16s in single ship formations, in bad weather or at night.  The restriction was put in place because the Main Mission Computer (MMC) broke down relatively often.  The resulting operational limitations hampered both training and operations.  It took more than 10 years to diagnose and correct the issue, mainly because the failure mechanism was illusive.

The most outspoken critics of the F-35 couldn´t have known about our issues with the MMC in the F-16 at the time. If they did, and read that deficiency report, would they have concluded that our F-16s were non-operational, and incapable of fulfilling its mission?  I´m tempted to  think so, based on how isolated pieces of information about the F-35 often are misinterpreted and taken out of context.  Would they have been right in their conclusion?  I don´t think anyone could have made that conclusion, based on just the fact that «the MMC sometimes crashes».  The reality I know, working with fighters all my life, is not black or white.  There are nuances.  We work around and overcome problems.

Our F-16s still have issues today which will never be corrected. This is not dramatic or unexpected.  The normal state of affairs for a fighter is that we operate in spite of issues with structure, sensors, software and logistics.  We´re normally able to work around the major problems while we devise long-term solutions.  Some issues are temporary.  Some end up being permanent.  Compromises…  (I personally wouldn´t believe the salesperson claiming to offer a fighter jet which had zero issues).

I said I wouldn´t quibble over individual factual errors which the F-35´s critics present as truth. To me, a compelling argument for how well the F-35 works is evident by what we´re able to do in training. Three weeks back I was part of a four-ship of F-35s.  Our mission was to overcome an advanced airborne threat, while locating and destroying an equally advanced surface based air defense system.  After neutralizing these threats, we were able to destroy four additional targets.  All this prior to receiving the Block 3F capabilities.  Suffice to say that this mission would have been close to suicide with a four-ship of F-16s alone!

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15 F-35As (13 USAF and 2 RNoAF) Grounded By “Several faulty cooling lines discovered in their wings”

15 F-35A have been grounded at Luke Air Force Base after faulty cooling lines were discovered.

Several faulty cooling lines have been identified in the wings of some F-35A aircraft at Luke Air Force Base, leading to the decision to temporarily suspend flight operations.

Noteworthy, the issue does not involve all the CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) examples but 13 U.S. Air Force and 2 Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35As. Interestingly, among the 4 aircraft already delivered to the Norwegians, only the third and fourth F-35 received at the Partner Training Center at Luke Air Force Base are affected by faulty components.

Some details about the grounding were just released by RNoAF.

The F-35, just like several other aircraft, uses its fuel tanks as part of its on-board cooling system: this imply that several cooling lines have been installed inside the tanks to allow cooling liquid for the aircraft’s avionics and other systems to pass through.

During a routine depot maintenance of one of the American planes it was discovered that the insulating materials covering the cooling lines have decomposed, leaving residue in the fuel.

The subsequent inspections have confirmed the same kind of issue with other aircraft fitted with cooling lines from the same provider.

According to the Norwegian MoD the issue has been traced back to cooling lines manufactured by one particular provider that have only been installed in the wing fuel tanks of 15 aircraft – 13 US and 2 Norwegian. However, an additional 42 aircraft currently on the production line have received parts from the same provider (including the three Norwegian aircraft scheduled for delivery early next year).

“We have been very pleased with our aircraft so far, both in terms of performance and technical capabilities” says the release that goes ahead with more information about the problem: “This is not a design flaw, but is instead caused by a supplier using improper materials and improper sealing techniques for these specific parts.”

Major General Morten Klever, the director of the Norwegian F-35 Program Office says he expect Lockheed Martin to identify the appropriate measures to correct this issue, and implement these as quickly as possible.

“This appears to have been an isolated incident. We expect this to be resolved by the time we receive the next aircraft currently in production. The F-35 will be key to our ability to defend Norway over the coming decades, and consequently we have imposed very strict requirements on the aircraft,” says Major General Klever in the official Norwegian statement on the grounding.

Since not all the aircraft are affected by the issue, pilots at Luke Air Force Base will be able to continue their training using other aircraft at the base, including the other two Norwegian jets as well as the Italian and Australian examples.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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USAF QF-4 Phantom is shot at by an F-35 with two AIM-120s during last unmanned mission (and survives)

During the last flight, the unmanned Phantom served as an aerial target and was shot at by an F-35 with two AIM-120s. Nevertheless, the aircraft landed safely back home.

The U.S. Air Force has just released some information about the QF-4 drone‘s last flight along with a video and some photographs. Interestingly, the aircraft that have flown as unmanned aerial targets for several DoD and foreign military sales customers testing next generation weapons, flew its last sortie supporting an F-35 mission on Aug. 17.

QF-4 returns safely 2

According to Lt. Col. Ronald King, the 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron, Detachment 1 commander, the aircraft was shot at by the F-35 Lightning II with two AIM-120 AMRAAMs (advanced medium range air-to-air missiles). We don’t know the exact scope of the weapon test, the RoE (Rules Of Enagement), the scenario and whether the QF-4 was expected to escape the downing. Maybe something went wrong, the missile launch failed or was cancelled, or just missed (because no missile has a probability of kill of 100 percent). However, it’s at least worth of note that the unmanned Phantom landed back at Holloman Air Force Base completely unharmed in spite of being targeted by the (controversial) 5th generation fighter and shot at with 2 radar-guided air-to-air missiles.

Update 1:

The reason for the QF-4 not being shot down is probably that the test was not a test of the AIM-120 missile’s ability to hit a target (something that has been proved in the past) but on the F-35’s ability to track the target and guide the AMRAAM until this reached the kill envelope. Once the missile starts self-guiding to the drone the test is accomplished and there is no need to waste a costy unmanned aircraft: the AIM-120 is directed to self-destruct before impact.

However some readers point out that previous tests saw some controversial “misses” (“the drone was beyond visual range and the AIM-120C was directed as planned to self-destruct before impact”) whereas other tests (for instance those with the AIM-9X) involving QF-4s or even more expensive QF-16s eventually led to knocking down the drone with direct hits (“After launch, the missile successfully acquired the target and followed an intercept flight profile before destroying the drone, achieving the first F-35 Air-to-Air kill or “Boola Boola,” which is the traditional radio call made when a pilot shoots down a drone.”)

Will keep you updated if more details emerge and the expected outcome of the mission is clarified.

Anyway, the unmanned mission on Aug. 17 served as the final unmanned flight before the QF-4 program ends in December year, and the 82nd ATRS, Det. 1 transitions to flying QF-16s. Until then, the unit will fly the Vietnam era F-4 as a manned aircraft.

Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. is the only base with a QF-4 mission. However, the 82nd ATRS, based out of Tyndall AFB, Florida, has been flying QF-16s since September 2014.

“It’s certainly bittersweet,” said King in a USAF release. “The F-4 served faithfully in Vietnam and as late as the Gulf War. So, for it to be pulled out of the boneyard to continue serving its country is a testament to this airplane — to the designers, the test pilots who first flew it, to the maintainers who’ve worked on it all these years — what a testament to what they’ve been able to do, and what a great airplane it was. Forty-five years later, we are still flying these airplanes to test the latest and greatest equipment we have.”

Image credit: U.S Air Force

 

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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)

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)

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)

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)

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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