Friday, November 30, 2012

F-35: Enhance or erode pilot skills?

Here's an interesting question answered by test pilot Pete Wilson on "Test Pilot Tuesday", brought to you on Friday.  "Does the technology in the F-35 erode or enhance pilot skills?"


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

F-35's capabilities are unmatched by any 4th generation fighter

One of the more persistent myths out there is that 4th generation plus fighters are equivalent to a 5th generation F-35 because they can be made "stealthy".

The F-35 isn't defined by its stealth.  It brings a whole heck of a lot more to the fight than just it's stealth.  That said, unlike any version of any 4th generation fighter, its stealth or "Very Low Observable" (VLO)  configuration, is designed in.  Sorry, but adding a few "stealthy" pods and making a few design changes on later 4th gen models does not a VLO aircraft make.

Here's a recent description of the point from a Lockheed Martin spokesperson:
The F-35 is the only available Very Low Observable (VLO) stealth fighter.  VLO stealth must be designed into the aircraft from the very beginning.  It cannot be retrofitted into an existing 4th generation aircraft.  For the F-35, this means a full load of internally carried combat fuel and weapons, imbedded sensors, a curved/diverterless intake that hides the face of the engine, aligned leading and trailing horizontal/vertical edges, and a digital/computer controlled design that allows the aircraft to be manufactured and assembled to a very tight and exacting outer mold line tolerance.  These designed-in characteristics help to reduce the overall radar cross section of the F-35 and allow that signature to be maintained at a fraction of the cost compared to legacy stealth aircraft.
The emphasis makes the point.  While retrofitting 4th gen aircraft may make their radar signature less than one without the retrofits, it still doesn't even approach the small signature of the F-35.   The F-35 can go into combat with everything carried internally.  Very few if any of the 4th gen fighters have that capability.  And even if they did, they aren't designed to be VLO aircraft.  They simply have some adaptations that make them less observable than before.

As mentioned, stealth is simply one part of what the F-35 provides that 4th generation fighters, no matter how much "stealthier" they're made, can't provide.

Again, the LM spokesperson:
Inside the stealth vehicle, the F-35 has the most advanced array of sensors and mission systems ever integrated into a fighter aircraft.  Using the more than 9 million lines of software code resident on the F-35, the data collected from the APG-81 AESA radar, the electro-optical targeting system, the electro-optical IR missile warning distributed aperture system, and the highly precise emitter detection and location data is fused together and presented to the pilot to provide him/her with unmatched 360 degree situational awareness.  Finally, the data collected from one F-35 is shared with other F-35 aircraft across a high bandwidth stealthy data link, ensuring every pilot in a flight of F-35 aircraft has the same tactical view of the battlespace.  The corresponding cooperative battle engagement capability changes the dynamics of the air battle and allows the F-35 to dominate the battlefield, even in the most demanding threat environments that will face the U.S. and allied nations over the next 30+ years.  In short, the F-35 provides a quantum leap in capability over competing fighter aircraft. 
There is the thumbnail of what this fighter promises. The two paragraphs cited very succinctly explain why the F-35 is superior, in every way, to 4th generation fighters.  Unmatched and unprecendented data collection and fusion that will provide, as the spokesperson says, "unmatched 360 degree situational awareness" that our pilots simply don't have today.  What it will do is create a synergy among its systems via data sharing and fusion ("cooperative battle engagement") that will allow it to outperform rival aircraft and air defense systems on the battlefield. 

Detractors of the program try to ignore the second paragraph capabilities while claiming that existing 4th gen fighters can be made stealthy enough to fill a future role vs. the F-35 - i.e. trying to define the F-35 down as nothing more than a "steath jet".

It is much, much, much more than that.  And that is why, in simple terms, this program is so important.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

F-35: Weapons integration testing begins in earnest

A little noted, but important event occurred recently that you shouldn't expect to see touted among the critics of the F-35 program.  The last AIM-120 AMRAAM deployed by the CTOL version of the F-35 during weapons testing was full up with electronics found in such a missile (although lacking a rocket motor) and it and the F-35 "talked" during it's deployment:
Prior to Oct. 26, mass models with no internal electronics were used during all F-35A weapons testing. The AIM-120 AMRAAM used during the integration test contained the same electronics as a full-up missile, but without the rocket motor.

“In October, we were able to begin weapons separation testing with the JDAM and AMRAAM. We proved we can carry them safely and that the shapes, which matched the exact mass properties of the real weapons, could separate from the aircraft safely. Now, with the integration testing, we’ve initially proved the aircraft can talk to the weapon and that the weapon can talk to the aircraft,” said Col. Roderick L. Cregier, 412th Test Wing, F-35 program manager.
Of course, that's obviously a critical task and just as obviously, the F-35's systems were up to the task.

Cregier had more to say on that:
“This was a very important milestone to get us over that hump, to move on to the next phase of the program, which is going to start very soon. This success was critical, now what we’re doing is putting the teeth into the F-35. It’s important that the jet can meet all the corners of its envelope, but what we’re really designing it to do is employ weapons,” said Cregier.

“Starting in February and continuing through the end of April, we are anticipating releasing roughly two weapons per week. This is going to be just the beginning of what I would characterize as the most ambitious weapons integration program in the history of tactical aircraft.”
So the "flying piano" is doing quite well, according to all the test results we've seen to date.   And it is developing teeth at a fairly rapid rate. 

However, there's been very little coverage of this and other important milestones (like the F-35 progressing to 50 degree AOA in four, count them, four flights) in the program ... not that it comes as a particular surprise given the reputations on the line of those who have chosen to call the program a failure right out of the box. 


Monday, November 26, 2012

USMC stands up first operational F-35 squadron in Yuma

The Marines stood up their first operational F-35 squadron last week.  That's a significant milestone, although to hear the critics talk about it, it's a sham and a waste.

However that's to be expected from those with a vested interest in the failure of the F-35.

The significance, of course, is what it will teach the Marine Corps and it's pilots, maintainers, tacticians and operations people how to operate with the F-35 at squadron level.
The US Marine Corps has officially stood-up its first operational Lockheed Martin F-35B squadron when VMFA-121 turned in its Boeing F/A-18 Hornets for the new jets in a ceremony earlier today (November 20).
It is in VMFA-121 that the "SOP" (Standard Operating Procedures) for all aspects of the F-35 will be developed at a squadron level.  These are the people who will be writing the book about how the aircraft should be deployed, maintained, and the like.  It will also give pilots and operations personnel the opportunity to develop tactics and techniques for the use and deployment of the F-35.  And, probably as important as any of that it will let pilots fly together and test those tactics and techniques while developing a relationship that is critical when the F-35 is finally combat capable.

But, of course, the critics would rather trot out headlines that mostly prove they have a good grasp on the glaringly obvious, like "Marines’ First Frontline Stealth Fighter Lacks Vital Gear".

Well of course it does.  Who said it wouldn't?  The F-35 hasn't even completed its testing yet.  But, and here's that bad word again, here we see a "concurrent" event taking place.  As the aircraft continues it's testing, squadron SOPs, operations and tactics are being developed - concurrently.  The F-35 doesn't have to be fully combat capable to see that happen. But when it is, all of this will have been worked out previously.  Apparently that's not glaringly obvious and thus was missed.

My guess is they'll treat the first launch and recovery of a Chinese jet fighter from the deck of a Chinese aircraft carrier the same way.  Nothing to see here.  They're not capable of launching a carrier attack.  I guess that makes it all a big sham and a failure if their nonsense about the USMC squadron is any indicator.

Additionally their criticism carries the usual dated litany that appears in most of their shots at the F-35 program while they mostly ignore any progress.  For instance:
As such, the list of things the F-35 still doesn’t have is a long one.

A working helmet, for one. JSF pilots are meant to wear an advanced new visor, built by Vision Systems International, that displays streaming video from the plane’s nose-mounted sensors, in effect allowing a pilot to peer through the cockpit floor — as though the jet itself were invisible to the occupant. But the video lags, especially at night, forcing the Pentagon to commission a less sophisticated back-up helmet from BAE Systems.

The military still wants the original headgear and has dedicated one of the F-35 test models to flying only helmet trials. “We’re making great progress,” Tom Burbage, a Lockheed veep, said of the helmet last month. But he didn’t say when this critical gear might be ready for war.
As we reported the 1st of November, two of the problems with the helmet seem to have been solved and the third is in testing.  The latency problem is well within standard and the jitter problem appears to have a solution now in testing:
In the latest simulations, the device demonstrated a latency of only 130 milliseconds, against a 150-millisecond requirement. ... The “micro-IMUs” (inertial measurement units) that are designed to solve the “jitter” problem are already in-flight-test.
The final problem - night vision acuity - is also in testing at Pax:
He said two tests dedicated to the helmet's performance at night were taking place at Naval Air Station Patuxent River and initial reports were "quite good."
These represent engineering problems, not concept problems.  And, as seems obvious, at least to some, those engineering problems are close to resolution.  It would be nice if the critics at least tried to keep up if they're going to throw darts.

Speaking of critics, one critic was pretty happy with what he saw on November 20th as VMFA-121 became active.  That would be Sen. John McCain:
"I am – after many years of frustration and setbacks – encouraged that the overall program is moving in the right direction.nbsp;After several major restructuring efforts over the last two years, initiated by then-Secretary of Defense Gates, the Government Accountability Office recently found for the first time in the program’s history that the program is finally set up to produce more achievable and predictable outcomes."
He later noted, speaking of the F-35 program,  that "this ship now seems to be pointing out into the blue ocean."

Strong words of praise from a very vociferous former critic of the program.   And, one would guess, he's likely up to date on the status of the helmet as well.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Video: F-35 high angle of attack testing

Here's a video of the F-35's high angle of attack (AOA) testing.

Lockheed Martin says:

An F-35A Lightning II conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft rapidly expanded its high angle of attack (AOA) test envelope to its 50 degree limit in only four flights during recent flight testing here. F-35A test aircraft are limited to AOAs of 20 degrees until their controllability is proven at a higher AOA limit of 50 degrees. The ability to rapidly progress to the maximum AOA indicates a sound aerodynamic and flight control system design. High AOA testing will continue on the F-35A for several months testing the capabilities of all design loadings and the flight control system.


Monday, November 19, 2012

F-35's electronic warfare (EW) capability

There's a lot of speculation out there about the electronic warfare (EW) capabilities or, if you listen to critics, lack thereof, on the F-35.  Of course we're talking about a highly classified system, so getting precise information on the EW capabilities of the aircraft is somewhat tough.  But many times you can learn as much by what isn't said as what is said.

Here, Lockheed Martin VP Stephan O'Bryan talks about that EW capability:
Much speculation has swirled around the question of the F-35’s electronic warfare and electronic attack capabilities. The Air Force has resolutely refused to discuss any specifics. Yet experts have pointed out that, in its most recent EW/EA roadmap, USAF has failed to mention any plans for a dedicated jamming aircraft. It is a conspicuous omission.

O’Bryan certainly couldn’t go into the subject of the fighter’s EW/EA suite in any detail, or the way it might coordinate with specialized aircraft such as the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System, RC-135 Rivet Joint, E-8 JSTARS, or EA-18G Growler jammer aircraft.

He did say, however, that F-35 requirements call for it to go into battle with "no support whatever" from these systems.

"I don’t know a pilot alive who wouldn’t want whatever support he can get," O’Bryan acknowledged. "But the requirements that we were given to build the airplane didn’t have any support functions built in. In other words, we had to find the target, ... penetrate the anti-access [defenses], ... ID the target, and ... destroy it by ourselves."

O’Bryan said the power of the F-35’s EW/EA systems can be inferred from the fact that the Marine Corps "is going to replace its EA-6B [a dedicated jamming aircraft] with the baseline F-35B" with no additional pods or internal systems.

Asked about the Air Force’s plans, O’Bryan answered with several rhetorical questions: "Are they investing in a big jammer fleet? Are they buying [EA-18G] Growlers?" Then he said, "There’s a capability here."

O’Bryan went on to say that the electronic warfare capability on the F-35A "is as good as, or better than, [that of the] fourth generation airplanes specifically built for that purpose." The F-35’s "sensitivity" and processing power—a great deal of it automated—coupled with the sensor fusion of internal and offboard systems, give the pilot unprecedented situational awareness as well as the ability to detect, locate, and target specific systems that need to be disrupted.
Obviously O'Bryan is going to present the system in the best possible light for his employer.  That's to be expected and weighed when considering the system.  But he doesn't make those decisions for the USAF or USMC.   One assumes their decisions were made based on mission requirements and capabilities.  And it appears those two services see, in the F-35, an aircraft that fulfills their EW mission requirements with its EW capabilities.

Short and sweet, these two services apparently see what they need in the F-35s EW capability.  They know how important that capability is to success in any air battle and eventually, the ground battle.  The beauty of the F-35, of course, is it is configured not only to do the EW mission, but then upon completion, continue on with a strike mission without having to land and reconfigure the aircraft.

The point, of course, is this fighter is going to mean an entirely new way of thinking about how to employ and deploy multi-role fighters.  And the promise, of course, is a radical improvement in their capability and thus their effectiveness over similar 4th generation aircraft.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

F-35 program status update through Nov. 2nd

This blog posted the program status for F-35 flight testing through mid-October (19th) a few days ago.  Here's an update that carries it through November 2nd.

Cumulative flight test activity totals for 2012 as of Nov. 2, are provided below:

o F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) jets have flown 437 times.
o F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft have completed 352 flights.
o F-35C carrier variant (CV) jets have flown 222 times.

Since December 2006, F-35s have flown 3,253 times and accrued more than 5,117 cumulative flight hours. This total includes 91 flights from the original test aircraft, AA-1; 2,439 SDD test flights; and 723 production-model flights.

On October 4, BF-17 ferried to PAX and completed its first SDD flight on November 1.

On October 11, the CV variant achieved 400 flights.

On October 16, an F-35A CTOL aircraft completed the first in-flight weapons release of a 2,000 pound GBU-31 BLU-109 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM).

On October 19, BK-2 and BF-16 ferried to Eglin AFB.

On October 19, an F-35A test aircraft completed the first aerial weapon release of an AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile) from a CTOL.

AF-4 completed the first F-35 Spin Recovery Chute taxi deployment on October 20, the first F-35 flight with the SRC on October 24, and the first High AoA mission at 26 and 30 degrees AoA on October 29.

On October 17, AF-7 performed the first in-flight SINCGARS (Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System) test on an F-35.

During the month of October, two days of record 19 F-35 flights were completed – October 19 and October 23.

On October 25, the SDD Fleet achieved 1000 flights.

On October 23, the entire F-35 Fleet (AA-1, SDD, and LRIP) achieved 5000 hours.

On November 2, Eglin completed their 500th sortie.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Advanced capabilities define the F-35

There's a long and very detailed "must read" article about the F-35 in Airforce Magazine that will be covered here in a number of posts.  It does a very good job of discussing some of the capabilities the F-35 brings to the game that are usually left out of more critical reviews.  This is an aircraft that is not just a fuselage and engine.  It is a weapons system of advanced capabilities, and discussing it as anything else presents an incomplete picture of what it is designed to do.

Today, though, let's put another claim the critics attempt to use to bed, shall we?  That claim is the F-35 doesn't have the combat radius of 4th generation fighters.  It is usually used as a justification to keep the supposedly less costly (and implied "better) 4th gen fighters and dump the F-35.

But, the claim isn't true:
In combat configuration, the F-35’s range exceeds that of fourth generation fighters by 25 percent. These are Air Force figures, [Lockheed Martin VP Stephen] O’Bryan noted. "We’re comparing [the F-35] to [the] ‘best of’ fourth gen" fighters. The F-35 "compares favorably in any area of the envelope," he asserted.
It is more than an assertion, it is common sense.  What is different about a fully combat loaded 4th generation fighter and a fully combat loaded F-35?

One carries everything on the outside and the other carries all its ordnance and fuel on the inside.

That means two huge differences, both of which negatively effect only the 4th generation fighter.  1 - a tremendous increase in drag that requires more fuel, reduces combat radius and performance.   2 - an increased radar signature from the exposure of the external ordnance and fuel tanks.

And what other advantage does such a configuration by the F-35 bring?
Stealth also permits (and requires) internal fuel and weapons carriage. The Air Force F-35 variant, fully loaded for combat, can pull nine-G turns with a full load of fuel and missiles. This cannot be done by fighters lugging along external weapons and fuel tanks.
Advantage F-35. 

And it is only one of many advantages the F-35 enjoys over 4th generation fighters as will be discussed in future posts.  The 4th gen manufacturers can make all the claims they wish that their fighters can be made "stealthier".  But none of them are configured to carry extra fuel or ordnance internally.  That's a bottom line point that makes their claim moot.



Tuesday, November 13, 2012

USAF set to complete flying portion of F-35 OUE

In case you're not familiar with the acronym, "OUE" means "operational utility evaluation" in mil-speak.

What does that mean to the F-35 program? The OUE, if favorable, will validate not only the aircraft but the USAF's training system for the aircraft:
If there are no problems with the weather or aircraft, the 33rd FW expects to complete the OUE by either Tuesday or Wednesday. Once the flying portion of the OUE is complete, the evaluators can begin writing their assessment of the F-35 system and the training pipeline at Eglin AFB. The resulting report will eventually be forwarded to Gen Edward Rice, commander of the USAF's Air Education and Training Command. 
If Rice is satisfied that the F-35 and the 33rd FW is ready to start training operations, he will give his formal assent.
 Once his "formal assent" is given, assuming it will be, the 33rd FW will begin training F-35 pilots in earnest.  And, then, as more F-35s are received by the USAF, it will begin standing up operational squadrons (remember, the USMC is already standing up an operational squadron at Yuma this month).

Again, another milestone in the F-35 program is nearing completion.


Monday, November 12, 2012

F-35: C variant weapons testing continues to progress

Here's a nice picture of the C variant of the F-35 with open weapons bay at Pax. It is a pretty good look at CF1 loaded internally   This testing supports weapon bay environmental testing in preparation for upcoming separation tests.


Friday, November 9, 2012

A review of F-35 testing since July

In case you are interested in a detailed accounting of the progress of the F-35 program, here is a list of test points accomplished since July through the 20th of October with a short explanation for each point.
The F-35 Flight Test Update concluded with the record-setting month of June 2012 with the Integrated Test Force completing 114 test flights and 1,118 test points.

Since then, the team set new records of 135 System Development and Demonstration, or SDD, flights for 239 SDD flight hours and more than 1,100 test points in August 2012. With training pilot checkouts at Eglin AFB, Florida, and test pilot qualifications at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, fifty-four pilots have now flown the F-35 Lightning II.

Through 20 October 2012, the F-35 program had accrued 986 test flights for more than 7,800 test points in 2012.

 – 9 July 2012: First F-35B Night Flight US Marine Corps pilot Maj. Richard Rusnok took off in F-35B BF-2 at 9:57 p.m. EDT for the B-model’s first night flight. The one-hour flight from NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, in BF-2 evaluated the aircraft’s exterior lighting. It was Flight 204 for BF-2.

– 17 July 2012: First F-35C Flight With Block 2A Software The first F-35C test mission with updated Block 2A software was piloted by Navy Lt. Chris Tabert in F-35C CF-3 for 1.1 hours from NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Block 2A software provides additional capabilities for the F-35, such as the Multifunction Advanced Datalink, the current Link-16, maintenance datalink, and a mission debriefing system. The mission marked CF-3 Flight 68.

– 27 July 2012: F-35A Airstart Testing Complete Lockheed Martin test pilot David Nelson completed airstart testing in F-35A AF-4 during Flight 131 over the Edwards AFB, California, test range. The 2.3-hour mission included the final four required airstarts, a critical step prior to the start of high angle of attack tests.

– 1 August 2012: First Air-To-Air MADL Exchange F-35As AF-3 and AF-6 accomplished a high data rate exchange with the first F-35 air-to-air communication over the Multifunction Advanced Datalink, or MADL. Air Force Lt. Col. George Schwartz flew AF-3 on Flight 128 for two hours from Edwards AFB, California. Mark Ward piloted the 1.8-hour AF-6 Flight 104.

– 7 August 2012: First F-35B Airstart Mission Marine Corps Lt. Col. Matt Kelly piloted the three first F-35B engine spooldowns over the Edwards AFB, California, test range to signal the beginning of F-35B airstart testing. The 1.3-hour mission marked F-35B BF-2 Flight 212.

– 8 August 2012: First Weapons Separation Flying at 400 knots at 4,200 feet altitude in F-35B BF3, Lockheed Martin test pilot Dan Levin dropped an inert 1,000-pound GBU-32 JDAM over the Atlantic test range. The 0.8-hour mission was the F-35 program’s first weapon separation. The milestone flight was BF-3 Flight 224.

– 10 August 2012: First F-35C Fly-In Arrestment Navy Lt. Chris Tabert accomplished the first fly-in arrestment into the MK-7 arresting gear cable by an F-35C at JB McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey. Using an interim arresting hook system, an engineering team composed of F-35 Joint Program Office, Naval Air Systems Command, and industry officials conducted tests to assess cable dynamics, aircraft loads, and performance on F-35C CF-3. During testing, Tabert achieved five of eight attempts into the arresting gear. Completing these tests enabled the F-35 program to improve the redesigned arresting hook system. Engineering design reviews will continue, culminating in initial sea trials projected for spring 2014.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

USAF pilots and maintainers give F-35 high marks

Flight Global has an excellent, short article out about feedback from US Air Force pilots and maintainers who are giving the F-35 high marks so far:

Initial feedback from US Air Force pilots and maintainers operating the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Eglin AFB, Florida, suggests the aircraft is performing better than its predecessors did at a similar stage of development.

The F-35 is in its infancy, but the stealthy type is already proving to be relatively stable from a maintenance standpoint, says Col Andrew Toth, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing.
"The system right now is behaving as advertised, [although] occasionally, we will have some issues with it on the ground," he says. However, this is usually easily fixed by shutting the aircraft down and then restarting it.

Once the JSF is airborne there are "very limited" issues, with the aircraft's hardware, software and Pratt & Whitney F135 engine all performing well, he says. 

Emphasis mine.  That's a pretty significant statement given the song and dance one normally hears from the critics.  The maintainers seem to be very happy with the aircraft and the maintenance system with which they're working:

Sgt Skyler DeBoer, a senior maintainer with the 33rd Fighter Wing, who has previous experience on the Lockheed F-22 Raptor and F-117 Nighthawk programmes, says the F-35 has the edge on the Raptor. "Compared with the [F-22], this programme is way ahead of where the [F-22] was, software-wise, aircraft-wise," DeBoer says, "Lockheed has made great strides with this aircraft."

DeBoer attributes part of the improvement to better maintenance training. F-35 maintainers have received far more extensive instruction at this early stage of the JSF programme than on the F-22, he says.

Contractor support, too, is far better on the F-35 than was the case on the F-22, he insists. Requests to address specific problems are processed far more quickly through the F-35's autonomic logistics information system, with responses often received within hours, he says.

Additionally, the F-35's stealth coatings are much easier to work with than those used on the Raptor. Cure times for coating repairs are lower and many of the fasteners and access panels are not coated, further reducing the workload for maintenance crews. 

Emphasis mine.  What you're essentially hearing is an outstanding example of "lesson's learned and solutions applied."

Much has apparently been learned by Lockheed Martin's development of the F-22 that has been applied to the F-35 causing DeBoer, who has worked on both aircraft, to comment, "this programme is way ahead of where the [F-22] was, software-wise, aircraft-wise."

Again,  a significant positive statement by someone who knows what he is talking about.

Another positive story among many recently that point to a program on the right track and performing very well, despite the negative comments of so many critics.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

F-35 completes 500th sortie at Eglin AFB

The good news for the F-35 program continues to roll:
The Eglin Air Force, Florida based Integrated Test Force has completed 500 F-35 JSF sorties.

Operating both the CTOL F-35A and STOVL F-35B, the Integrated Test Force accomplished the 500 sortie milestone in 238 days, Lockheed Martin says, reducing the time between each 100th sortie from initially 123 days to currently 16 days. 
There are now 22 F-35s operating at Eglin.

As the increasing pace of sorties demonstrates, one of the criticisms of the aircraft, reliability, seems to be unfounded.

· 100th sortie – July 12 - accomplished in 123 days
· 200th sortie – Aug. 24 - accomplished in 44 days
· 300th sortie – Sept. 21 - accomplished in 28 days
· 400th sortie – Oct. 16 - accomplished in 25 days
· 500th sortie – Nov. 2 - accomplished in 16 days

As well as testing continues to go (ahead of schedule in every area), we're likely to find many more of the criticism of the aircraft and the program also fall away into the "unfounded" category.


Friday, November 2, 2012

China flies it's second 5th generation fighter

If the photos are true, China has flown it's newest 5th generation fighter, the J-31
Photos of China’s latest stealth fighter, the J-31, started appearing across aviation blogs in early October. Then reports surfaced that the J-31, built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, completed its first test flight Wednesday morning in northeastern China.

The J-31 executed the test flight escorted by a J-11 Chinese fighter if the photos from the event are to be believed. The Chinese government has yet to put out an official statement confirming the test. Chinese military officials have kept most details about their stealth aviation program tight lipped.

J-31 photos indicate the fighter is significantly smaller than the J-20 — the other stealth fighter the Chinese unveiled. Aviation experts have speculated the J-31 could be used more so as an interceptor or a carrier-based aircraft. Thus, the J-20 would be used as a strike aircraft targeting ships and ground targets as it could hold more missiles. 
Here's one of the photos:

 One of the more important points in all of this, given the reports are true, is that both of our potential adversaries are well into programs of their own developing 5th generation fighters.  They're not content to keep or upgrade a 4th generation fleet and it remains a mystery to most why some critics think that's the way the US should go.

While the J-31 is obviously designed to be a stealth aircraft, no one knows of it's other capabilities.  Unlike the F-35, we have no idea as to whether it has the advanced capabilities that our 5th generation aircraft will have.  Stealth, of course, is only one aspect of the US's 5th generation effort.

But, when all is said and done, pretending that legacy airframes that were designed in the last century  and are older than their pilots are going to be adequate in the future is just the wrong course to pursue.

And the picture above, is worth 1,000 words making that point.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

F-35 helmet update - 2 problems down, 1 to go

Given recent statements by Lockheed Martin VP Tom Burbage, it appears that most of the problems that the F-35's advanced helmet have suffered have been solved or are well on their way to being solved:
Lockheed Martin Corp said on Tuesday that it was making progress on resolving technical issues facing the cutting-edge helmet being developed for use by F-35 fighter pilots, and it cited positive initial reports from night flight tests of the system.

Lockheed Martin Executive Vice President Tom Burbage said that night vision performance was the "only real question" left on the helmet, which was designed by a joint venture of Rockwell Collins Inc and Israel's Elbit Systems to display all the information F-35 pilots need to fly the plane.
There were three key problems with the helmet this past spring.  Latency, jitter and night vision resolution.  If "night vision performance" is the "only real question" left, one must assume that the latency and jitter problems have been solved.  Neither was considered a show stopper and there was a report recently that the latency problem was well within standard now and that the "micro-IMUs" were being tested for jitter..
In the latest simulations, the device demonstrated a latency of only 130 milliseconds, against a 150-millisecond requirement. ... The “micro-IMUs” (inertial measurement units) that are designed to solve the “jitter” problem are already in-flight-test.
If you recall, that same report said that  "a new near-infrared camera to improve night-vision acuity is being tested at MIT Lincoln Laboratories and will be flight-tested next year. "

As mentioned, none of the problems were ever considered insurmountable, but more of an engineering challenge.  It appears that 2 of the 3 challenges have been met with the third well on the way to resolution.

Good news for the program.