Tag Archives: Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

F-35 makes precautionary landing in Texas on its way to Nellis Air Force Base

According to Reuters, one of two F-35 stealth fighters one their way to Nellis Air Force Base, where the first two aircraft were taken on charge by the 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron last week, was forced to perform an unscheduled landing in Lubbock, Texas, on Mar. 11, 2013.

The Joint Strike Fighter was flying from Lockheed Martin facility in Forth Worth, to the Nevada airbase near Las Vegas, when a caution warning light came on, requiring the pilot to divert and land at the nearest airfield.

The F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL), landed safely, while the second plane continued as planned to its destination.

Lockheed experts were immediately dispatched to the Texan airport, located about 300 miles  from Dallas, to assess the situation and identify the cause of the caution light.

Although emergency landings are quite usual in military aviation (or, at least, not rare), the fact that a costly F-35 was forced to land because of a possible failure in one of its systems, does not necessarily mean the aircraft is unsafe or a total waste of money (as some, many, believe).

Still, the mishap is the latest in a series of negative news regarding the Pentagon’s most expensive warplane (grounded twice this year for engine problems) and for this reason, even what can be considered a normal incident, makes the news.

F-35 Lightning II Arrival

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

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Regardless of all the sensors, here is why F-35 pilots need to visually check their 6 o’clock

In a recent post, we have explained that a recently leaked Pentagon report highlighted the poor “out-of-cockpit visibility in the F-35A”, a shortcoming that would limit the pilots ability to see aerial threats surrounding the plane putting the costly 5th generation plane at risk.

The problem would lie in the large head rest that impede rear visibility and the ability of the pilot to check the aircraft’s 6 o’clock for incoming aerial or surface threats.

F-35A

Image credit: U.S. Air Force

Many readers have argued that the limited rear visibility is no big deal for a modern aircraft equipped with sensors capable of detecting threats coming from any direction.

Although it is quite true that the F-35’s sensors equipping the aircraft (at least when it will get most advanced software configurations) would probably be able to spot any aircraft attempting to get on the aircraft’s tail, no matter where the pilot is looking, we can’t completely rule out the possibility that the pilot will have to turn is head rearwards to visually ID a plane approaching fast from 6 o’clock.

A Joint Strike Fighter pilot could be forced to look towards the tail to check the smoke of an incoming SAM (Surface to Air Missile) and perform the proper evasive maneuver, or to look for an incoming hostile stealth fighter (for instance a Russian or Chinese one) detected by the onboard Distributed Aperture System (DAS) close to “the merge”.

In a Within Visual Range scenario (no matter how likely it is for a stealth plane), the ability to check their six can make the difference between death or survival. That’s why visibility is important regardless the capabilities of the defensive suite.

Still, it must be said that, as soon as (if?) all the problems with the devices are solved, wearing their Helmet Mounted Display System Gen. II, that fuses all the information coming from the plane’s sensors along with imagery fed by a set of cameras mounted on the jet’s outer surfaces, providing a X-ray vision-like imagery, F-35 pilots will be able to check their six, head rest or not.

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“F-35 super stealth plane will get pilots shot down in aerial combat” new leaked report says

According to an article published by the Washington Times, the F-35A, the Conventional Take Off and Landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter, would be defeated in aerial combat because of his current shortcomings.

Mentioning a leaked Pentagon report made available by POGO, the article explains that “out-of-cockpit visibility in the F-35A is less than other Air Force fighter aircraft” thus limiting a pilot’s ability to see aerial threats surrounding him.

The problem is in the large head rest that impede rear visibility and the ability of the pilot to check the aircraft’s 6 o’clock for incoming aerial or surface threats.

Another shortcoming is the aircraft adveniristic helmet mounted display system (HMDS Gen. II), that has not yet solved focal problems, blurry and double vision in the display and misalignment of the virtual horizon display with the actual horizon.

The HMDS Gen. II integrates FLIR (Forward Looking Infra Red) and DAS (Distributed Aperture System) imaging, and night vision (without somehow uncomfortable NVGs – Night Vision Goggles) into a single helmet in which essential flight and weapon aiming information are project onto a virtual HUD (Head Up Display) on the visor.

F-35A EG

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Few weeks ago in a Flight Global piece by Dave Majumdar, Bill Flynn, Lockheed test pilot responsible for flight envelope expansion activities for the F-35 had claimed that all three variants of the Joint Strike Fighter will have better kinematic performance than any fourth-generation fighter plane with combat payload, including the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Such claims were strongly disputed by a Eurofighter Typhoon industry test pilot, who tried to debunk all Flynn’s “theories” about the alleged superior F-35 performance.

Considered the above mentioned F-35’s flaws (and all the shortcomings highlighted by the report…), the kinematic performance of the (recently, once again, grounded) stealth fighter, is the least problem.

Aviation journalist David Axe has published an insightful piece about Lockheed Martin’s marketing efforts to keep up “the much-delayed, over-budget” F-35 Joint Strike Fighter reputation.

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Here is how a Royal Canadian Air Force F-35 in special color scheme could look like

Even if the future of the F-35 in the Royal Canadian Air Force is at least uncertain, after the program was “reset” (with several other replacement combat planes being considered, including the Super Hornet, the Rafale and the Typhoon) because of the problems, schedule slippages and cost overruns, Al Clark has drawn a digital mock-up (first published in the March issue of Air Force Monthly magazine) of how the Joint Strike Fighter would look like in Canadian service.

Interestingly, Al imagined the F-35 not only in the standard overall grey color scheme, but also in the same livery of the 2012’s RCAF CF-18 demo team.

F-35 RCAF special

Image credit: Al Clark

The theme chosen by the RCAF CF-18 demo team in 2012 was:  “The True North, Strong and Free”

Designed by Jim Belliveau, veteran graphic design director of 410 Squadron at 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta, the theme displays tail and dorsal art capturing the Arctic landscape and its people. It also features 13 distinctive snowflakes, representing Canada’s provinces and territories, as well as the 13 RCAF Wings, scattered across a dramatic Arctic blue background.

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Pentagon F-35 Chief batters Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney over program

Shortly before the F-35 fleetwide grounding was lifted (as investigation found that cracked turbine blade affected only overused test plane and no redesign is needed), Reuters reported that during an Airshow in Australia held in Southern Victoria the Pentagon’s program chief for the F-35 project, U.S. Lieutenant-General Christopher Bogdan, made some stinging comments towards the two contractors (Lockheed Martin & Pratt & Whitney) and accused them of “trying to squeeze every nickel out of the U.S Government” and failing to see the long term benefits of the project.

He wasn’t finished there. He went on to add “What I see Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney doing today is behaving as if they are getting ready to sell me the very last F-35 and the very last engine and are trying to squeeze every nickel out of that last F-35 and that last engine.”

“I want them both to start behaving like they want to be around for 40 years,” he added. “I want them to take on some of the risk of this program, I want them to invest in cost reductions, I want them to do the things that will build a better relationship. I’m not getting all that love yet.”

Reuters said they approached a Lockheed Martin executive who declined to comment on the remarks made by Bogdan, saying he was unaware of them.

Bogdan is flying back to the U.S. to hear if any of the funding or the program is to be cut in the latest round of budget cuts within the Pentagon. Currently $6 billion is set aside for the development of the program.

Bogdan said of the possibility of losing some of his funding: “I need every penny of that $6 billion to get over the finish line, [..] if they take money out of development something’s going to have to give. I’m either going to have to push the program out or I’m going to have to shed capability.”

In the meanwhile, sequestration or not, the F-22 does not suffer so many budget constraints just having being awarded a $6.9 billion upgrade “indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity” contract.

David Cenciotti has contributed to this post

F-35C refuel

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

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