Friday, August 24, 2012

Marine Corps–”Damn the F-35 critics, full speed ahead!”

Reuters is reporting:

U.S. Marine Corps pilots will soon begin training flights on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at a Florida air base, underscoring the service's confidence in the new radar-evading fighter jet, two people familiar with the plans said.

Lockheed Martin Corp has delivered 10 F-35B model jets -- which can take off from shorter runways and land like a helicopter -- to Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida panhandle.

Test pilots began preliminary orientation flights of the F-35B at the air base in May and have completed nearly 200 flights to date, but the flights been limited in their scope and speed. For instance, they have not yet been able to conduct vertical landings at the air base.

Up to now, training of future pilots for the F-35B model has been confined to simulators and the classroom. The military needs to train a cadre of pilots and maintainers to fly and repair the jets before it can start using them for operations.

The decision to move ahead with formal training flights will allow future F-35B pilots -- most of whom are already highly trained to fly other aircraft -- to take to the skies, according to the sources, who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Obviously a lot has changed since the F-35B was put on probation.  Enough progress that it was taken off probation early and now and in fact, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Amos, has scaled back what he called his “hands on involvement”:

Amos set a goal to meet with the F-35 Joint Program Office every month to check on its status at a time when the program was mired in test delays and rising costs.

A year later, Amos said he’s taken a relative step back from the program only meeting with the program office on a quarterly basis now that he’s spun up on its progress. He’s not any less concerned about the F-35’s success, but Amos said he doesn’t need monthly briefings since he understands the program’s metrics. The four-star has them posted behind his desk.

He’s certainly keeping an eye on the program, but sees progress:

Keeping a close eye on the test flight schedule, Amos has taken notice of the ground Lockheed Martin has made up this past year in the flight schedules. A F-35B released a weapon in flight for the first time on Aug. 8 when it dropped a 1,000-pound GBU-32 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) over the Atlantic Ocean flying 400 knots at 4,200 feet after taking off from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.


“I think the airplane is progressing well. Looking at all the test flights, the points and where it’s supposed to be and where it’s supposed to be as it relates to projections. We’re either on, or ahead of schedule. It’s really, really doing well,” Amos said.

But don’t take Gen. Amos’s word for it.  Maj. Richard Rusnok, a Marine Corps F-35B pilot talks about the aircraft:

F-35 is incredibly easy to fly which is a testament to the personnel who conceived and built the flight control system.  The F-35B in STOVL mode is unmatched in stability and raw power.  There are two primary benefits to this level of stability.  The obvious one is safety.  The aircraft does everything it can to protect the pilot and itself from exceeding an aerodynamic or structural limit.  The second benefit is that the less a pilot needs to concentrate on basic stick and rudder skills, the more he/she can devote to fighting the aircraft and fulfilling the MAGTF commander’s intent.”

And, unlike the critics, he actually understands what the F-35B brings to the Corps specifically and the war fighting abilities of the US military in general:

The F-35B offers incredible basing flexibility to the Marine Corps – from ships at sea, to small forward operating bases, to main air bases.  Most importantly, the three variants of the F-35 share the same mission systems components and software.  In conventional flight, the three variants have essentially the same flight characteristics with some minor exceptions.  The cockpits are virtually identical and there are only a few things that would clue you off that you are in one variant or the other if you did not already know.  The transition between different variants is pretty seamless.  Because of this similarity, the three services flying this jet are already working to develop common tactics which will only benefit the MAGTF and the joint commander in the long run.

That “z-axis” which is apparently unknown to the critics.  This is a war plane that will make a difference and could be a game-changer that guarantees the continuation of our 60 years of air dominance.

And, understandably, the Marine Corps plans to deploy those abilities and capabilities as soon as it can. 


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