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?"
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.
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.
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.Of course, that's obviously a critical task and just as obviously, the F-35's systems were up to the task.
“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.
“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.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.
“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.”
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.
As such, the list of things the F-35 still doesn’t have is a long one.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:
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The Eglin Air Force, Florida based Integrated Test Force has completed 500 F-35 JSF sorties.There are now 22 F-35s operating at Eglin.
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.
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.Here's one of the photos:
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.
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.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..
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.
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. "