Tuesday, May 22, 2012

F-35's problems well on their way to resolution and testing ahead of schedule

So how well is F-35 testing going?

Very well, thank you. In fact, as Flightglobal reports, "the F-35 problems are on their way to being fixed".
The F-35 Lightning II is making good progress through flight testing this year, a top Lockheed Martin official says. Most of the biggest challenges faced by the programme should be well on their way to being fixed by the later part of the year.
 Such as the tailhook problem:
One major issue that has recently popped up on the US Navy's F-35C variant is that the aircraft's tail-hook has had to be redesigned. That is because the existing design has failed to catch an arresting cable during trials. 
Lockheed is working on a new improved hook design that should fix the problem. "We have modified the hook pointwith a lower center of gravity," says Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed's vice president for F-35 programme integration and business development. Additionally, "we've redesigned the hold-down damper."  
The new design is scheduled for its preliminary design review in "the summer." That will be followed by a critical design review in the fourth quarter.  
After the new hook design undergoes shore-based qualification trails, the F-35C will undergo sea trials on a carrier in late 2013 or early 2014. 
The problem wasn't that the designers didn't know how to design a tail hook, it was the tailhood had to be designed so it wouldn't compromise the aircraft's stealth signature when not deployed.

The high tech helmet has also had some problems which seem to be well on their way to being solved:
Lockheed is also set to test fixes to the jet's troublesome helmet-mounted display (HMD) this summer, O'Bryan says.  
Lockheed has reached an agreement with the US government on the HMD requirements, which will help the company to fix imagery lag on the helmet by tweaking the system's software, he says. The company is also adding micro inertial measurement units (IMU) to the helmet and pilot's seat to dampen out jittery images. "We're going to fly those micro-IMUs this summer," O'Bryan says. 
Lockheed hopes that the new ISIE-11 camera, which replaces the existing ISIE-10 cameras, will resolve jet's night vision acuity problems. The new system will undergo testing at MIT's Lincoln Labs later this summer. 
The system will now consist of two ISIE-11 cameras, one of which will be mounted in the helmet and another on the canopy bow, and imagery pumped in from the F-35's six distributed aperture system (DAS) infrared cameras. "We're optimistic, we've got a good plan," O'Bryan says. Meanwhile, the pilots have started to test the imagery from the distributed aperture system. 
Initial results look to be very promising, O'Bryan says. But there will need to be tweaks as flight tests reveal potential issues. The helmet fix seems to be well on the way and, of couse, the helmet is an integral part of the advanced package that integrates and fuses then intelligence gathered by the system. 
 Software too is coming along well:
Other avionics tests are proceeding well. The F-35 has already started testing the Link-16 data-link and will soon start to test the variable message format link which is needed for the close air support mission. There are also ongoing tests with the radar, electronic warfare, and infrared targeting system, which are needed for the release of the Block 2A training software.
Flight testing is showing marked progress. The F-35B, for instance, has moved from being on probation to being 20% ahead on this year's planned test schedule:
On the flight sciences side, the US Marine Corps short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B test programme is further along than that of the F-35C. The previously troubled B-model is now running 20% ahead of this year's planned test schedule, O'Bryan says. 
The F-35B has flown at altitudes over 49,000ft and has hits speeds of Mach 1.4. That's just shy of the F-35's required 50, 000 ft ceiling and Mach 1.6 design speed limit, he says. The B-model has also flown at its maximum airspeed of 630 knots and has achieved its maximum 7G limit.  
"It's about over 50% complete with its clean-wing full-envelop test points," O'Byan says. Marked improvement. 
The same goes for the Navy's C variant:
The F-35C is also about 20% ahead of this year's flight test plan, O'Bryan says. Like the F-35B, the C-model has flown out to 630 knots, but the naval variant is required to hit 700 knots.  
The C-model has also flown at 45, 000 ft and at speeds of Mach 1.4. It has also hit its maximum 7.5G limit. That means the USN version has completed about 40% of its clean configuration flight envelope test points, O'Bryan says. 
And the A variant for the Airforce?
Out at Edwards AFB, California, F-35A will have completed 45% of the totality of its flight test points by the end of the year. By the fourth quarter, the F-35A should have competed its first full lifetime of durability testing, O'Bryan says.  
There have thus far been no new issues that have arisen as a result of the tests. 'That, I'm happy to say, is going well," he says. 
With all sympathy for the critics, those are some pretty awesome reports. It is time for Congress to get with the program now and start ordering the aircraft in the quantities promised so the program can achieve the cost savings that it was desgined to bring.

The aircraft is proving itself to be everything it was promised to be. It's time for Congress to do their part now.


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