If you listen to the pilots training on it and flying the F-35, the answer is "yes". USMC F-35 pilot Col. Arthur Tommasetti talks about why:
“I think when you start asking questions about if the F-35 is worth it, you have to understand what it brings to the table — everything that pilots have been wishing for over about the last two decades,” Tomasetti said.What does that mean, in real terms, to a fighter pilot?
Standing on the flight line, still holding his helmet, Tomassetti marveled at the technical advancements in the F-35 cockpit “for someone like me who grew up in airplanes that had lots of steam gauges and dials, buttons, knobs and everything to push.”
The Lightning simplifies combat flying and will make for more efficient missions and keep pilots safer, he said.
“I can talk to the airplane with voice-activated commands to tell it what I want to do,” he said. “I was able today, when we were out doing some basic aircraft handling and radar familiarization work, to fly for about 10 minutes without actually touching the stick.”
"When you have an aircraft that’s easy to fly from a pilot’s perspective, it’s hard to put a price tag on that. It means when the day is not going so well, either because it’s a complicated mission or something has gone wrong with the airplane, as long as the plane stays easy to fly, the chances of your getting home, of getting on the ground safely, are greatly increased.”As Col. Tommasetti implies, the increased chance of getting home is actually priceless.
Former Blue Angles pilot, Navy Cmdr. John Allison, quickly became a fan of the F-35. And while he knows that the aircraft still has a way to go to deliver on its promise, he's convinced that when it does, the difference it will make will be significant:
“Once the software catches up, if it’s able to do what they say it will do, it’s a game changer,” he said.Even the maintenance guys like its promise:
Chief Petty Officer Vincent Stolp, a former Blue Angels ground crew member also training at Eglin, said the F-35 is “very maintenance friendly.” He said routine repairs of the Lighting’s avionics and other innards that may take three hours on an F/A-18 can be done in one-third of that time.As mentioned, it still has a way to go to deliver on the full capabilities it promises. But, as Cmdr. Allison says, when it does, it will be a "game changer" in a way that is still not well understood by many of those who pan the jet as not worth the time or cost.
But as each day passes and the F-35 works its way through its testing milestones (ahead of schedule), it makes the promise more and more of a reality.