Thursday, January 17, 2013

F-35: Despite naysayers, program progress is obvious

There's  a long and interesting article about the F-35 in yesterday's Telegraph (UK).  It also has a very good interactive graphic of the F-35B that you'll enjoy.

A key line that was interesting in a fairly balanced article:
No one doubts that there are development problems to overcome, yet even the most vociferous naysayers have tended to go to ground as F-35s have taken, increasingly confidently, to the air. 
That is exactly the situation as the program continues to make steady positive progress.  We increasingly hear ... silence from critics.  Or, we here the continued use of old and dated arguments that are no longer valid.

This is a developmental program, just like any other jet fighter program, where a concept is built and then tested.  If it were possible to build the perfect jet without testing it and fixing problems discovered during the testing, I'm sure we'd have done that by now, wouldn't we?

That's why I mostly get a chuckle from the hyperbole critics are fond of using when describing problems with the F-35.  You'd think that we'd never built one without problems before.  In fact, we've never built the perfect jet and we never will.  That's why programs have a testing period.

Acknowledged, the F-35 program got off to a slow start, but that seems to be behind it now.  The good news is we're seeing more and more of the media take a fairer look at the program now that has begun enjoying success (and the critics arguments continue to fall as they're proven wrong).

One other point to bring out that often gets lost in the critics "complexity" argument (i.e. this plane is way too complex and we should be building much simpler jets):
Everyone I meet involved in the F-35 project talks lyrically about the computer wizardry of this digital-era aircraft. I ask the same analogue question, over and again, of the test pilots: so what’s it like to fly?

'A no-brainer,’ they chorus.

They talk so fervently about the Star Wars aspects of the F-35 partly because it is the easiest aircraft any of them has ever flown: pilots are free to manage the weaponry while the F-35, more or less, flies itself.


They include the RAF’s quietly spoken Sqd Ldr Jim Schofield, who flew 70 hours in Harriers in combat in Iraq in 2003. He learnt to fly, on a Piper Super Cub, before he could drive.

'I’ve flown 10 frontline fighters,’ Schofield says. 'The F-35 is by far and away the easiest. I’ve flown the aircraft up to Mach 1.6 and pulled up to 7g. The helmet gives me a God’s-eye view. And when you press that hover button it’s as if engineering and electronics have overcome the laws of physics.’ 
Who are you going to listen too - the critics who've never flown the plane, or a combat pilot who has flown many jet fighters and finds this one by far the easiest ever to fly?  The complexity of the aircraft, in terms of flight, has apparently rendered a fighter that is actually easier to fly than it's predecessors.

And what does that mean?  It means the pilot can concentrate on the other aspects of his job in the air that doesn't include flying the plane.  If you review the last two posts here, you'll understand why that's so important.


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