Friday, September 28, 2012

20th F-35 delivered to Eglin AFB

This is the 14th F-35 delivered this year:

Deliveries of the F-35 to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida have reached the 20 unit mark with the delivery of F-35B BF-15 on September 27.

Marine Air Wing’s VMFAT-501 squadron, within the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin, which will use the aircraft for pilot and maintainer training. The jet, the 14th to be delivered to Eglin in 2012, was piloted on its 90 minute delivery flight from Fort Worth by USMC Major Mike Rountree. 

What this means, of course, is another aircraft on which to do pilot and maintainer training, increasing the pool of available aircraft and thereby the number of pilots and maintainers that can be trained.

More progress for the F-35 program.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Airmen certified to do engine starts on F-35

The development of the F-35 continues apace, and a part of that is the training and certification of the fighter's maintainers.  That took a big step foward recently with the certification of the first enlisted Airman for engine start:
Last week, the first few maintenance personnel in the joint strike fighter program were certified on procedures for F-35A engine runs – two Air Force crew chiefs and two civilians from Air Force Engineer Technical Services. The accomplishment is yet another milestone toward organic maintenance capability, which reduces the need to rely on outside agencies.

“It feels pretty good starting the whole development of this program and being the first enlisted person to run an [F-135] engine,” said TSgt. Jeremy Pressley of the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit.
Pressley completed his first engine run Sept. 10 and will be an instructor for the select few maintainers chosen to go through the engine run course. 
Of course, as more and more are certified the faster the jet gets out to the services.  Obviously, training maintenance crews is a critical part of the jet's development, and TSgt Pressley's certification is a big step in that direction.
Engine runs are a fairly common follow-on maintenance task, required after engine installations and for leak checks and operational checks of specific components, for example. As the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit builds up to full capability, engine runs will be part of daily operations.

“In a typical AMU, you’re doing multiple engine runs in a day,” said Chief Master Sgt. Christopher Bennett, who leads the airframe powerplant general section. “It’s a great deal of responsibility.”
Previously, the unit could only use trained pilots to conduct engine runs. 
Now certified enlisted personnel can do it.   Another step forward for the F-35's development.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New engine for the F-35 by 2020?

That's the plan:
It has been almost three decades since the U.S. last set out to develop an all-new combat-aircraft engine, but more than 50 years since the turbojet gave way to the turbofan. Now the U.S. is embarking on development of a new generation of fighter engine with an architecture it considers as fundamental an advance as the turbofan was over the turbojet.

Being part of a research effort that could produce the dominant combat-aircraft engine of coming decades is critical for industry. So General Electric and Pratt & Whitney are breathing easier after being selected by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) for the Adaptive Engine Technology Development (AETD) program to mature fuel-efficient, high-thrust powerplants for post-2020 upgrades to the Lockheed Martin F-35 and future “sixth-generation” combat aircraft. 
The new engine will combine fuel efficiency and increased power:
AFRL calculates adaptive technology will improve engine fuel efficiency by 25% over the F135 powering the F-35, increasing aircraft combat radius by 25-30% and persistence by 30-40%. The engine could also help address the anti-access/area-denial challenges posed by a potential conflict with an near-peer adversary such as China, says AFRL. This could be achieved via increasing supersonic-cruise radius by 50% and reducing the aerial-refueling tanker burden by 30-74%.

Under the 48-month AETD program, GE and Pratt will design engines with 25% lower SFC, but 5% more military (dry) power and 10% higher maximum (reheat) thrust than the F135. “We will take that engine through preliminary design review,” says Reed. The engine must be sized to fit the F-35 with “only modest modifications,” he says. 
An ambitious but achievable program.  And one which will make criticism of the F-35's combat radius, etc. moot (most are presently ill-informed as it is).


Friday, September 21, 2012

F-35 and Spitfire, side by side

Your Friday palate cleanser - two great warbirds from different eras:

The image was captured by Matthew Short at the US Air Force's Edwards AFB late on 14 September.



Thursday, September 20, 2012

F-35C tailhook update

Another of the problems being solved has to do with the tailhook on the carrier version of the F-35, the F-35C.

It looks like they are very close to a solution without compromising the stealth design of the jet (something the critics assured us would be the result):
The original design failed to snag the arresting wire in early testing owing to two problems: the point of the hook was not sharp enough to scoop under the wire and securely grab it, and a dampener device was not sufficient to maintain a hold on the wire. Essentially, the hook was bouncing upon landing, reducing the likelihood of a successful arrested landing.

Lockheed Martin, the F-35 prime contractor, has redesigned the hook to address those problems. An interim version, which has a sharpened point but lacks the dampener, was tested.

In three of five recent attempts, the redesigned hook did capture the wire; the failures were due to the pilot landing the aircraft too far from the wire for a successful arresting. This testing “was highly successful in demonstrating that when presented the wire . . . it will grab the wire,” says J.D. McFarlan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of test and evaluation for the F-35 program.
Again, to be clear, the only change tested was the hook design according to the article, the redesigned dampener hasn't yet been tested apparently.  So with just the new hook design, results were better.

The F-35C is scheduled for shipboard trials (landings/takeoffs) in 2014.  It appears, assuming the dampener adds to the success, that the aircraft will be ready for the trials.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

F-35 helmet update

One of the integral parts of the F-35s development is the advanced helmet that the pilots wear. It has been going through a few development problems that have slowed its testing down. Issues such as latency, the sharpness of the night vision and jitter have had the contractor, Vision Systems International.

A spokesman for Lockheed Martin, Joe Della­Vedova, recently addressed the concerns about the helmet:
"It's cutting-edge technology," DellaVedova said Friday about the helmet, which makes the pilot look like he morphed into a giant, amber-headed grasshopper.

"They'll be able to see through the airplane, but there are challenges that go with it in testing and development. We will get there," he said.

DellaVedova said among the challenges are jitter that occurs from aircraft vibrations and "latency," the time delay of camera images transmitted to a pilot's helmet. Although they are tiny fractions of a second, the time delays encountered are magnified with the pilot's binocular vision as the plane flies at up to 1½ times the speed of sound.

He said another issue that needs to be ironed out is "night-vision acuity," or the ability to see sharp, clear images.
But, said DellaVedova, the problems have been identified and the solution appears to be close at hand:
Already the helmet has been used to fly the plane at night and during the day, and while weapons are released. The solutions to the problems "are at hand" and will be solved, he assured.

"The maturation of technology systems to arrive at suitable night vision, weapons employment and all the flight parameters on the visor without the need for goggles is critical," he said.
Although it looks like VSI will solve the problems the helmet has experienced, Lockheed Martin had BAE begin the development of a backup helmet which would be less complex and robust than the VSI helmet.

All part of the development process of taking an aircraft with these advanced capabilities from concept to reality. If the spokesman is to be believed, it appears a solution for the problems is in the offing. The helmet is critical to employing the full capabilities the F-35 promises.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Boeing Exec trash talks F-35

There are a couple of rules of thumb that one should understand if they're going to try and denigrate their competition. One, make sure you're not living in a glass house when you throw the stones. And two, make sure you know what you're talking about.

In both cases, a Boeing executive ignored those rules of thumb to take a few shots at his competitor's airplane, namely the F-35.

Chris Chadwick, president of Boeing Military Aircraft division, met with reporters recently at the Boeing headquarters.

"The F-35 continues to delay and delay", he told them.

Right. Old news. As has been pointed out here, the testing that is now going on is ahead of schedule and has been for quite some time. That was a valid point a year or so ago. Now it just sounds like uniformed sour grapes.

Then there was this:

"Yes, the F-35 has all-aspect stealth, but that is used in a relatively small part of the combat envelope."

Really, sir? This is a Joint STRIKE fighter, that's understood right? Which means a large portion of its future missions will be penetrating hostile enemy airspace and engaging targets deep in enemy territory. That won't be a "relatively small part" of its "combat envelope", it will, in fact, be a rather large part of it. Especially if that enemy has sophisticated air defenses. If so, stealth becomes a very important tool that pushes up the chances of mission success in contested airspace much higher than if one is having to try it in an F/A 18.

This video (no sound) will give you an idea of the point:

Which radar cross-section would you prefer? If the situation doesn't demand stealth, then you can make just as much of a gun truck of the F-35 as you can the F/A 18. But you can't make an F/A 18 stealthy, can you?

Finally, Chadwick launches this little goodie:
In a clear signal to F-18 supporters in the Navy, Chadwick added this barb: "With the F-35 continuing to have technical difficulties and to continue slipping to the right, they have to make sure they have the right capability for the men and women who go in harms way."
Of course it's always nice to talk rubbish about a competitor and forget all the "technical difficulties" the aircraft that's being touted by the critic had during it's birthing process isn't it? Not to mention the time it took to correct those problems. It's a pity a sharp reporter didn't ask Chadwick how long it took Boeing to rectify the "falling leaf" problem heritage F/A 18s suffered.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

How an F-35 is built

Have you ever wondered how this 5th generation fighter is built? Here's an animated peek into the methods and processes used to manufacture the fighter:


Monday, September 10, 2012

Turkey says it will buy 2 more F-35s

More good news for the F-35 on the international front as Turkey has said it will buy an additional 2 F-35s.
Turkey is expected to use funds from its Defense Industry Support Fund to purchase a second pair of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightening jets to be delivered in 2016, says a Turkish procurement official. The first pair is set for delivery in 2015.

Turkey will likely order a second pair of the jointly-made, next-generation, stealth fighter F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Lightning II aircraft, as it did earlier this year following the production of the first two, a senior procurement official said over the weekend.
They are the first 4 of many to come:
Turkey is expected to eventually buy around 100 F-35s, although the figure may rise up to 120.
And, interestingly:
Despite its huge price tag, the F-35 is considered to be a cheaper option than its contemporary solutions.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Is the F-35 worth it?

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.
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.”
What does that mean, in real terms, to a fighter pilot?
"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.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

F-35B completes air restart testing

Hot on the heels of the announcement that the F-35A had completed its air restart testing and was moving on to angle of attack (AOA) testing comes the announcement that the B variant (STVOL) has also completed its air restart testing:

The short take-off and vertical landing variant of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter successfully completed a major prerequisite test for in-flight performance Aug. 15.

BF-2 completed the first air starts, which test the ability of the F-35’s propulsion system to restart during flight. Verifying the restart capability of the propulsion system is part of the initial flight test program for the F-35 and a prerequisite for high angle-of-attack testing, scheduled to start next year.


Using multiple restart methods during the tests, BF-2 successfully completed 27 air starts at various altitudes.

With the successful completion of that testing, another variant moves on to AOA testing.


Monday, September 3, 2012

Edwards AFB reports more progress in F-35 testing

While Eglin AFB celebrates their 200th sortie focused on training pilots for the F-35, Edwards AFB's F-35 test pilots have pushed past their 350th sortie as they continue to test the aircraft's limits.

They've completed the air restart testing. That has allowed them to move into other areas according to Lt.Col George Schwartz director of the F-35 integrated test force and commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron.
"That allowed us to go into high AOA testing where we will start expanding the envelope from 20° AOA all the way up to 50° AOA," Schwartz says. "It's going to start probably in September."
Much of the activity has focused on high speed tests which have seen the F-35 being repeatedly pushed out to its maximum speed of Mach 1.6 and 700 knots calibrated airspeed-often fully laden with internal weapons.
Another ongoing theme for the Edwards test pilots is maturity testing for the software required for the F-35 training mission currently underway at Eglin AFB, Florida.
The AOA testing will begin soon:
Initially, test pilots will simply push the F-35 out to 50° AOA. But then the veteran aviators will have to intentionally depart the aircraft from controlled flight in order to gauge how the jet behaves under those conditions. They will also evaluate the F-35's departure recovery procedures and its departure resistance characteristics. "It's the kind of stuff a test pilot dreams of doing," Schwartz says.

Like the transonic region of the flight envelope, high AOA testing flight is particularly tricky. While there have been improvements made, there are still some transonic roll-off problems--where the aircraft begins an uncommanded roll at speeds between Mach 0.9 and Mach 1.2--that have yet to be fully ironed out on the F-35. Those problems are being fixed with tweaks to the F-35's flight control laws. But Schwartz says, similar discoveries are possible in other challenging parts of the envelope like high AOA flight. "We expect to find stuff and we'll get it corrected," Schwartz says. "That's why we're here."
As those faults are discovered in testing, they'll be tweaked and applied to all current and future F-35s.

The beauty of concurrency, though, is while this testing is taking place, Eglin AFB has already flown 200 sorties training pilots and maintainers. That means fielding both the aircraft and the personnel necessary to fly and maintain them at an earlier date than had linear development been used.

As mentioned earlier, there's extensive testing of the software going on concurrently as well:
In addition to physical tests of the airframe and weapons, there are also extensive mission systems trials ongoing at Edwards. The integrated test force has already finished vetting the F-35's Block 1B software, which begins to fuse some of the data from the jet's myriad sensors, Schwartz says. That software is now being deployed with the training fleet at Eglin AFB. So far, the software has become more and more stable as testers wring out the problems and the code is corrected in later releases. But there have been some "minor integration issues," Schwartz says.

Currently, Edwards is testing the "very last part" of software Block 2A. Schwartz says that testing is complete for the low rate initial production Lot 4 jets' software. The test force is hoping to be flying with the Block 2B software load starting in the fall. "That's the one that going to be going into the first big operational test period," Schwartz says. It is also the software block that the US Marine Corps hopes to declare initial operational capability with on the F-35B.
And, very soon more weapons testing:
There are also ongoing trials with external weapons loads and pilots at Edwards hope to start testing weapons separations soon. Currently, all weapons pit drop tests required for the system development and demonstration (SDD) phase, save for the 250lbs GBU-39 small diameter bombs, have been completed. "We're just getting ready to do our first weapons separation and that'll be in the October timeframe," Schwartz says. "We're going to do a GBU-31 and an AIM-120."All in all very encouraging reports coming out of both Eglin and Edwards AFBs on the progress of the F-35.
All in all some very encouraging news on the testing and vetting of the F-35. Progress on all fronts and still well ahead of schedule.