Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

A-7 Corsair II and the VAL program: how a multiservice aircraft should be developed

There are several examples of combat aircraft that were born with the aim to serve in two or three different services of the same nation in aviation history.

Usually, these programs face many problems before they reach their full operational capability and they struggle to satisfy the different customers who put them into service.

This rule is confirmed by the last of these aircraft, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) which generated the three different versions of the F-35, as well as an older program, the Tactical Fighter Experimental (TFX), with the USAF F-111A and the US Navy F-111B.

And while the Lightning II is eventually entering the active service in spite of several issues, the F-111 survived only in the A variant while the F-111B, destined to the U.S. Navy, was cancelled.

But among all these programs there has been also a huge success: the so called VAL (with V meaning for heavier than air; A attack; L light) from which the Vought A-7 Corsair was born.

National Naval Aviation Museum FB page

Originally, the VAL was a 1962 joint service program for the development of an advanced light attack aircraft involving USAF, U.S. Army and U.S. Navy.

However the Air Force preferred using its existing fighters for light attack and for close air support and suspended its sustainment to the development of the program.

So the Corsair II became the result of a Navy’s specific requirement to replace the older light attack aircraft such as the AD Skyraider and the A-4 Skyhawk.

Only in 1965 USAF rejoined to the program, developing its all weather version of the Corsair II, the A-7D. This version included advanced flight and navigation displays, one of the first digital computer and also an inertial navigation system. Indeed the A-7D had a truly advanced avionics: it embedded some sophisticated systems, including  the CCIP, the Continuosly Computed Impact Point that gave a real time computation of the weapon release point.

Along with the CCIP there was also the CCRP, the Continuosly Computed Release Point which would automatically deliver the weapon on the target point.

The A-7D  also introduced the BFL, acronym of Bomb Fall Line which showed a “X” on the HUD indicating where the weapon would have hit if the pilot delivered the weapon at that moment.

All these tools were a great help for the development of the Navy A-7E and thanks to the Air Force introduction in the program the Naval Aviation was able to realize its own version of the Corsair II with real all weather attack capabilities.

However the A-7 wasn’t such a revolutionary aircraft like the F-35 is intended to be: in fact the Corsair II was a low risk project since its airframe was similar to the F-8 and was also simpler than the Crusader one.

Still, the last of the Vought naval aircraft achieved some impressive milestones such as accomplishing its first flight on Sept. 27, 1965 ahead of the schedule and the first training example of the aircraft was delivered to the Navy in November 1966.

National Naval Aviation Museum FB page.jpg 2

All images: Naval Aviation Museum FB page

The A-7 didn’t face high cost overruns and the airplane was also able to respect the maintainability requirement with only 17 maintenance man-hours per flight hour.

Nevertheless the A-7D/Es were some of the first combat aircraft to be equipped with the Head Up Display.

Thanks to the help that every service gave each other, the Corsair II was able to satisfy its customers and become an attack platform with capabilities which they didn’t have anywhere else.

Maybe the story of the A-7 should guide the Joint Strike Fighter: a program not only affected by schedule slippage and cost overruns but that also a plane that risks to fail to meet some of its customers’ requirements.

 

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[Photo] F-35A on final at Nellis Air Force Base

Since there are not many F-35 flying around the world, any “unofficial” picture of the much maligned fifth generation stealth fighter plane is extremely interesting.

The one above was taken by Alan Sondak at Nellis Air Force last week and shows one of the local-based Joint Strike Fighters about to land on runway 03R at the airbase located just outside Las Vegas, Nevada.

In the meanwhile, testing activities go ahead.

An F-35A Joint Strike Fighter flying just under the speed of sound dropped a 2,000-pound GBU-31 guided bomb from 10,000 feet on Jul. 1 at Edwards Air Force Base, California; a test whose aim was to verify whether the bomb would properly separate from the the aircraft flying in a tactical environment and a little step toward full-rate production…

Image credit: Alan Sondak via T. Lovelock

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[Photo] F-35B head-on during aerial refueling from a KC-10

Taken by Dane Wiedmann and released by Code One magazine, this interesting photo shows USMC test pilot Lt. Col. Patrick Moran, flying F-35B BF-2, as he performs aerial refueling tests off of a U.S. Air Force KC-10 on Jun. 25, 2013.

F-35B aerial refueling

Image credit: Dane Wiedmann via LM

So far, the majority of the images of the F-35 being refueled came from the typical point of view of the KC-135 boom operator.

This image was taken by a KC-10 equipped with a hose (in place of the flying boom) hence the interesting perspective on the stealth plane.

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Italy’s F-35 stealth fighter purchase review signals more cuts ahead.

Even if the Italian Air Force considers it “essential” for the future of the service in the next 20 years, the F-35 program will be reviewed for 6 months, as a consequence of the lower-house motion supported by the Letta cabinet presented on Jun. 26, 2013.

Based on the new motion, Italy’s participation in the program will not be cancelled, but parliament will have to approve any further stage of the 5th generation multi-role fighter jet purchase.

The new motion, passed 381 to 149 votes, calls on the government to push for more European Union defense projects integration to reduce military spending and defeated an opposition motion in favor of quitting the program.

On Feb. 15, 2012 former Italian Minister of Defense announced Italy’s plan to purchase 90 F-35s out of the original 131.

41 aircraft were be scrapped leaving the Italian Air Force and Navy with less than F-35 in the A and B version to replace about 300 current aircraft, including the Air Force’s Tornado and AMX, and the Navy’s AV-8B+ Harrier II on board the Cavour aircraft carrier, both involved in the Air War in Libya.

Italy plans to spend about 12 billion Euro on the aircraft over 45 years, starting in 2015. Considered the mounting pressure around the program, both within the coalition party and the opposition, and the need for the government to address the huge public debt and limit the budget deficit, a further reduction in the amount of planes that will be eventually procured seems to be not only likely but inevitable.

F-35B and C

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Delays and cost overruns have raised the projected unit price from 75 million to 133 million USD, even if, in February 2012, Italian head of the agency that is responsible for the procurement of new armaments said that the unit price will be around 70 million each (Lockheed Martin estimated 65M USD for the F-35A and about 73M USD for the F-35B), less than the 79 million USD currently paid for the Eurofighter Typhoon and much less of the 121 million USD per aircraft anticipated in 2011.

Unit price depends also on the foreign sales. U.S. have commitments from allies to buy as many as 500 jets. Last year, The Economist 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.

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[Photo] F-35 performs first AIM-120 missile launch

On Jun. 5, an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft completed the first in-flight missile launch of an AIM-120 C5 AAVI (AMRAAM Air Vehicle Instrumented) over the Point Mugu Sea Test Range.

According to the U.S. Air Force’s statement: “It was the first launch where the F-35 and AIM-120 demonstrated a successful launch-to-eject communications sequence and fired the rocket motor after launch — paving the way for targeted launches in support of the Block 2B fleet release capability later this year.”

F-35 first AIM-120

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

The first AIM-120 launch is just the last of a series of events that have marked the development of the F-35 in the last years, which included the beginning of pilot training at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., the delivery of the first operational test aircraft to Edwards, Nellis Air Force Base, the induction of the world’s first JSF operational squadron at Yuma, the first operational aerial refueling, the (unimpressive) high angle of attack testing, a series of engine problems, the beginning of the “maneuverability dispute.”

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