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Chief test pilot gives brief on F-35

January 12, 2006 (by Jim Jenkins) - Joint Strike Fighter chief test pilot Jon Beesley gave a progress report on the development of the F-35 to the Naval Aviation Foundation Association of Naval Aviation Pax River Squadron Dec. 9, in the Cedar Point Officers' Club.

During FCLPs, the pilot stays on the glide slope by focusing on the Fresnel lens display and keeping the "ball", properly aligned between two horizontal rows of green lights. Approach speeds are characteristically slow, requiring precise control inputs by the pilot and a high degree of responsiveness from the airplane. [LMTAS photo]

Beesley, a former U.S. Air Force test pilot, said that one of the more impressive aspects between all three variants of the F-35 is the commonality. The bulkheads are all different, but the mission systems on the three airplanes are all 100 percent common, and the way the aircraft are supported is mostly common.

The three variants include a conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) aircraft for the Air Force (F-35A), a carrier-based (CV) aircraft for the Navy (F-35C) and a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the Marine Corps (F-35B). Seventy to 90 percent commonality is required for all variants.

Beesley said the F-35C will have larger wing and tail control surfaces for improved carrier landing characteristics. The larger surfaces will enable the F-35C to make landing approaches at slower speeds than the F-35A.

One challenge facing Lockheed Martin in producing the F-35 is making all the control surfaces move via electronic hydraulic actuators.

"This airplane is a true fly-by-wire airplane," Beesely said. "From the flight control computers to the actuators, there is nothing but wire. Two hundred-seventy volts of power goes out to run very small motors, which run very small hydraulic pumps, which move the surfaces. There were lots of discussion about whether that was smart or not, but that's the way it is, and we're going to make it work."

Perhaps the most notable feature of the new F-35s is their ability to carry weapons inside the fuselage, helping with the airplane's stealthy design. The Air Force F-35A can carry two 2,000-pound bombs inside and two advanced medium range air-to-air missiles inside, and has a combat radius of more than 600 miles. All three variants carry more fuel than the aircraft the F-35 will replace in each service. The Navy F-35C has an approximate combat radius of 700 miles with the airplane's internal fuel tanks.

Beesely said that due to the ongoing refinements, the Navy F-35C would be the last to be delivered.

The commonality comes in to play in the F-35's advanced weapons and avionics systems giving the warfighters for all three services enhanced lethality.

The F-35s will be equipped with the multi-mission Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar (AESA), which has no moving parts. The advanced radar system will allow the pilot to effectively engage air and ground targets at long range while also providing enhanced situational awareness. An earlier version of the AESA is used by the F-22 Raptor and F-16 Falcon.

Also each aircraft will have the electro-optical targeting system and a new distributed aperture system working independently providing long-range detection and precision targeting and a full 360-degree infrared view around the aircraft. The DAS consists of many electronic sensors placed strategically at multiple locations on the aircraft.

Beesley also said that the F-35 is the first aircraft developed in a long time that will not have a heads-up-display. Instead F-35 pilots will wear helmet mounted displays.

"DAS is basically missile launch detectors," Beesely said. "We've got all this information in IR and these [sensors] will paint a picture. So basically we've got DAS sensors all around and they can look everyplace. You can take that imagery, with a helmet, you could put it up in front of your face and you can see in infrared everything that those sensors see."

Theoretically, with enough sensors on the aircraft, a pilot can look down where he would normally see his knees, and essentially see through the structure of the aircraft to a target directly below.

Another new state-of-the-art feature designed for the JSF aircraft is voice recognition systems. Selecting a radio frequency, for example, can be done simply by saying what frequency you want.

First flight is not far off and is in fact expected later this year. Lockheed announced on its Web site that all major structural components of the first F-35 have been put together and are awaiting engine installation.

F-35A1 should fly in the fall of 2006, Beesley said. The first STOVL aircraft should fly in late 2007, and B2 is expected to fly early in 2008.

The first Navy JSF is scheduled to fly in 2009.

Courtesy of NAWCAD Public Affairs

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