Aviators on board Naval Air Station Meridian, Miss., got a glimpse into the future of aviation as they stepped into the F-35 Lightening II cockpit demonstrator which made a stop at the installation March 26-27.
The F-35, a fifth-generation aircraft, is the jet many of the Navy and Marine Corps aviators training at NAS Meridian will fly in the coming years.
Produced by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 Lightening II is a multirole fighter under development that is slated to perform ground attack, reconnaissance and air defense missions using the latest in stealth technology. In addition, the F-35 will be the first aircraft in America’s air fleet to be used by the U.S. Air Force, Nav, and Marine Corps.
Rick Royer, an instructor for the F-35 flight simulator for Lockheed Martin, said the mobile simulator is on a tour of military installations, and science and trade shows in the United States. There is also a second cockpit demonstrator that tours overseas military installations.
“We are here to show these young pilots the future of aviation,” said Royer, a 22-year military veteran. “This is our chance to give them a little time in the simulator, so they can see the ‘wow factor’ this aircraft has.”
Royer said the main question he hears is, “Where’s all my switches?”
“We tell them, ‘You don’t need them anymore. The color display monitors are where you will find everything. All your controls are on the heads up display in the helmet,'” Royer said. “Overall, pilots seem amazed at the capabilities of the F-35; the most notable differences is the lack of knobs and instruments in the cockpit. The HUD (heads up display) is right on the helmet visor, and the color display screen has everything the pilot will need.”
Currently, 90 F-35s are in operation in the United States, two in the United Kingdom and two in Denmark.
Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121 based in Yuma, Ariz., has been testing the F-35 B-model since November 2012. In addition, the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., has been training in the A-model of the F-35, calling the aircraft the “Swiss Army Knife” of fighter jets because of its ability to perform multiple missions that currently require three separate aircraft to accomplish. Pilots at Eglin started night flight training in the aircraft this month.
The Navy is expected to begin flight trials of the C-model, designed to land on aircraft carriers, within the year.
“This aircraft can do it all,” Royer said. “It has air superiority capabilities, it can drop bombs, attack ground targets, and perform recon while utilizing stealth.”
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter development is being funded principally by the United States with additional funding from partner counties including the United Kingdom, Israel, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands and Turkey.
Royer said although the F-35 will not initially replace all current aircraft flown by U.S. armed forces, it will supply a unique complement to those platforms that continue to be a part of America’s air defenses.
“The F-35 will replace the A-10 (Warthog) and the F-16 Falcon for the Air Force, the F/A-18 (Hornet) for the Navy, and the AV-8B Harrier for the Marine Corps,” he said.
Kenn Cooper, senior systems manager for Lockheed Martin said as technology advances, so do the abilities of weapon systems. Many of the systems inside the cockpit of the F-35 were shared from what was learned from the development of the F-22 Raptor.
“You won’t see two people in this aircraft like you do in fourth generation jets because one pilot can manage the job,” Cooper said. “The reason you have two people inside one cockpit is the systems demand it. It is just too much for one person. But in the F-35, one person can handle the job because it is simplified and manageable.”
Press Release, March 31, 2014; Image: US Navy