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F-35B: “Running When We Intended to Crawl”

by John Reed on October 19, 2011

As you know, the Marine Corps’ F-35B Joint Strike Fighter has been conducting short take-offs and vertical landings aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp for a few weeks now.  Just yesterday, the F-35 program invited a host of reporters to watch the jet conduct operations from the Wasp.

The B-model, once beset with cost overruns and testing delays, is now “running when we in tended to crawl,” naval F-35 test director Marine Col. Roger Cordell told reporters aboard the Wasp.

As of yesterday, the B had performed 60 of the 67 test flights it is slated to fly off the Wasp. Testing will end on Thursday.

Here’s an interesting write up in Defense News on how the jet compares to the Marines’ F/A-18 Hornets:

The aircraft has flown very well during the sea trials, said Marine Lt. Col. Matt Kelly, lead F-35 test pilot at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Md. While he couldn’t compare the jet directly to the Harrier since he was an F/A-18 Hornet pilot, Kelly pointed out that the sea trials are his first experience operating from an amphibious assault ship, which is a testimony to the F-35B’s excellent handling characteristics.

“I have found this airplane to be just a really nice airplane to fly in the shipboard environment,” he said. “Prior to two weeks ago I had never landed or taken-off from this type of ship… It’s a pleasure to fly.”

Kelly added that the F-35B is easier to handle on the flight deck than he had imagined it would be. The challenge is not landing the aircraft but rather “putting the nose tire in a 1-foot-by-1-foot square box,” he said.

In up and away flight, the F-35 handles magnificently, similar to a clean F/A-18 Hornet with more power, Kelly said.

Remember, the troubled B-model was put on a two year probation by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and last week Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the DoD might not be able to buy all three variants of the jet. Needless to say, these successful sea trials are a much needed PR coup for the Marines’ future fighter.

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{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

STemplar October 19, 2011 at 11:47 am

Wow. It can take off and land on a boat. Whoppee. I hardly call it a major accomplishment that the over budget /behind schedule airplane can take off and land on a ship. If this is a big gold star for the program then we are setting the bar pretty low for $383 billion in America anymore. How about can it do that on time, on cost and to the specs that were promised? I think that's pretty much the real issue with the damn planes, not that they can fly.

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BigRick October 19, 2011 at 12:02 pm

I'm curious as to future test flights: fully loaded, dirty configuration, etc. I'm sure these test flights were with the stripped down version. Perhaps someone more informed could fill us in here.

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Bob sykes October 20, 2011 at 9:49 am

Weapons are stored internally, not on wing mounts, so there is no dirty configuration.

Operating off a WWII sized carrier like the Wasp is a very big deal to the Marines. And, the overall performance of the F35B will be superior to the Harrier.

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Megido October 21, 2011 at 4:28 pm

How?

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mike j October 19, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Let's also try to remember in the face of all this "good news," that the F-35B was originally intended to reach IOC last year, not just starting test hops off an LHD. Merely getting a functional airplane out the back end of the program was not the goal. If it's not affordable in numbers to achieve the defense policy of this country, this program is a failure.

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Howe October 19, 2011 at 12:13 pm

This program has been "crawling" long enough, Its time to stretch her legs.

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Black Owl October 19, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I'm curious if the F-35B is being rushed through the test phase. It's telling that this news about it doing so well now is released at a time when most people are seriously considering cancelling the B-model and one of the other models in favor of another alternative like the F-22 or upgraded Super Hornet models.

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seeker6079 October 19, 2011 at 1:46 pm

I wonder if the lesson we should take from this is "a defence program won't start moving its ass and meeting targets unless it is under genuine threat of cancellation". Greeeeeeat. Can you a manager boasting about how his new employee meets every target each time (and only when) he gets a conditional notice of termination?

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blight_ October 19, 2011 at 1:54 pm

It's how most humans behave.

The carrot and stick model doesn't seem to work for aerospace; which seems to lend credence to the theory that it isn't about companies not wanting bonuses, but because our programs are bundled R&D programs rather than build off-the-shelf projects.

Our procurement system is probably more reminiscent of Third Reich Germany. We need vengeance capability! Thus, we will pay for R&D of rockets, and /then/ pay to deploy operational capability. Or we will pay for extensive R&D to build foundational capability before paying for operational systems.

Subsidizing tech demonstrators and proving capability well before we start doling out money for new fighters, and generally reforming the procurement process might lead to better outcomes. For instance, putting LiftSystem into a demonstrator jet before the X-32/X-35off might have been better. Same with debugging F-135 and F-136 before we got the whole "second engine" controversy.

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chaos0xomega October 19, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Personally, I'm more curious as to why they have an F-18 pilot doing the flight testing. I mean I can understand it at a later point, but you would think that for the initial round of testing for something like this they would want someone experienced with aircraft of similar capability/in this setting.

Whenever I see something like this, it raises questions in my head as to how valid the story is and whether or not its a pr stunt. To me it smacks of an officer saying, "Well, our Harrier guys are all saying that the plane is inadequate, not ready for the fleet, is a bigger lawn dart than the Harrier is, etc. But this Hornet guy who has never flown a Harrier before and has no experience with VTOL thinks its the coolest thing ever, so lets have him give an interview!"

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Guest A October 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Or there weren't any TPS graduates with time in a Harrier when he got the job…

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seeker6079 October 19, 2011 at 3:15 pm

It might have a lot to do with the fact that most of the pilots who will transition into the F-35 (in whatever its form) are going to be Hornet-qualified, so showing off both how simple and pleasurable it is for an F18 jockey is a fairly sound PR move.

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DecentWeasel October 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm

I definitely agree with you there. If anything, having a Hornet pilot validate the aircraft gives it more credence for me!
As I understand it, the Harrier is notoriously tough to fly in VTOL mode, so I suspect a pilot who could handle the Harrier wouldn't have any trouble acclimating to the F-35 even if it were just a marginal improvement.
But if a guy who doesn't even specialize in VTOL aircraft says it's a breeze to fly? To me that says a lot.

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jumper October 20, 2011 at 9:16 am

Lt. Col. Kelly isn't "just a Hornet pilot". He's a fully qualified lead TEST pilot who graduated from Pax River's test pilot school. Just because he never served in the Harrier, a Marine aircraft, has no bearing on his qualifications to fly the B… as you can see from the video the two share very little in the way they take off. This isn't a "PR move" or due to a lack of Harrier drivers.

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chaos0xomega October 20, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Look, all what I'm saying is, if and when we figure out cold fusion, who do you want to be the one to tell you how efficient and effective the new technology is? A petroleum engineer or a nuclear physicist? I for one, would prefer the subject matter expert. I'm not doubting Lt Col Kelly's ability as a pilot, I'm saying that the person doing the initial testing should be experienced with the closest relevant technologies. Whenever you see something like this in the media, etc. it's usually because someone somewhere wants to limit the information in some way.

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Oldlthrneck October 20, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Wow! Conspiracy theory much?

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chaos0xomega October 20, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Hardly a conspiracy, do you honestly think that the DoD is always 100% forthcoming regarding information related to projects which are full of bleeding edge secret squirrel tech? As an 'old leatherneck' I would think you would be quite familiar with 'OPSEC'.

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William C. October 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Typical. The F-35B performed better in these tests than expected and the critics are still screaming it should be cancelled.

They say is lacks agility but a test pilot confirmed it handled like a clean F/A-18. They say it will melt the deck and deafen the crew but it hasn't done that in 60 flights. It's already proven easier to land and handle than the AV-8.

But nope, despite all of this it's still a death trap that will cost $300 million an aircraft and burst into flames if it gets a mean look. You guys sound the same as the critics of the Abrams, Bradley, Stryker, F-14, F-15, F-22, and just about every major procurement program in the last 30 years.

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Michael October 19, 2011 at 4:02 pm

A clean F-35B handles like a clean F/A-18. Now that sounds like a real multimulti billion dollar improvement!

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crackedlenses October 19, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Trying flying a F-18 off of one of those short runways…..

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Tee October 19, 2011 at 9:03 pm

A Gripen has flown it off a carrier without the catapult back in the 90's. The New Gripen NG should have no problem.

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Kent Seering October 19, 2011 at 10:44 pm

One thing to remember here is that this is NOT a full-sized carrier, but a smaller amphibious assault ship, the Wasp. F-18's, nor the Gripen, cannot operate of a ship this (relatively )small. This is why the Marines are still pushing for this aircraft, and also are buying the F-35C. (they are, right?)

PMI October 20, 2011 at 6:57 am

What carrier would that have been?

STemplar October 20, 2011 at 1:15 am

Sorry William, flying into the air off a ship its supposed to fly into the air off of is no major accomplishment. More like bare minimum requirement.

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William C. October 20, 2011 at 1:55 am

In the history of STOVL fighters, most attempts end in failure. For the F-35B to have done so well in ship-board testing is pretty good. Plus many of the claims made about the F-35 were just proven to be false.

In the end there will be no denying that the F-35 had a painful development, but we see that it can work.

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mike j October 20, 2011 at 6:52 am

First, you have a very low standard for what constitutes "proof." You sound like you're ready to go into full-rate production.

Second, if you throw enough money at something long enough, you'll get it to work acceptably well. Performance is not the issue. We are about to learn a very hard lesson with this program. If we can't afford to live without something, it had better not cost too much.

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STemplar October 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

I still say BFD. As far behind schedule, over budget, and still didnt meet intial specs that were promised, it has a long long way to go and this is still a plane taking off form a platform it was supposed to be able to do. Bare min req, period..

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crackedlenses October 20, 2011 at 4:06 pm

Remember the AMRAAM?…..

tiger October 21, 2011 at 10:13 am

It is the real world. The best laid plans never go as planned. History is filled with Aircraft projects with issues.

Sanem2 October 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm

the F-35(B) will be an amazing aircraft. it'll have its growing pains like any other aircraft, a bit more so concidering the complexity of the system and what I am guessing is an overreach between reality and desirability

but even so, the F-35 will still be a enormous failure, because of its cost. while acceptable in mild economic times, this will be the death of all variants when the US and its allies come to face the full realities of the economic crisis around the corner. already all services have accepted that there will be budget costs, but as history teaches us, these are always bigger than first asumed

add to that the fact that technology evolves exponentially rather than lineair, meaning that the F-35 will be technologically outdated if it does ever become operational. already the newest AESA radars are capable of detecting stealth aircraft at long range, what chance will the F-35 have 10 years from now?

and so it is that the F-35 will be the (disastrous) end of its kind, as unmanned systems take over more and more of its roles…

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chaos0xomega October 20, 2011 at 2:36 pm

I highly doubt that unmanned systems will replace manned systems (fun fact: for an unmanned system to do the same thing a manned F-35 can do actually costs more money), but otherwise some very good points.

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tiger October 23, 2011 at 12:39 am

Unmanned systems don't eat, sleep, blackout or even need oxygen.

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crackedlenses October 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm

This reminds me of the AMRAAM program; long, painful gestation, but when it's time comes, it does what they said it would at the beginning….

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jim rumbaugh October 19, 2011 at 5:07 pm

I thought the B version has been canceled?

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Pedro October 19, 2011 at 5:44 pm

The F35 nay-sayers are missing the point….

Given a relatively benign "enemy no 1" like our Chinese friends the important thing is that we know how to make a few F35s and F22s.

Now, lets build a few and move onto the next thing and while we're at it order a few thousand COIN turboprops and drones to solve the real world's problems : Somali pirates, Islamist fascists and Mexican drug lords.

The Chinese and the Russians aren't a threat to anyone for the next 10 years at least, probably never.

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Jayson October 19, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Nice AC, Pilot sounds like drumming the corporate line because he was told to. Keep spending the money the US is already in debt with and not capable of paying back. But man what a nice shiney AC. Only a matter of time we end up in the same boat with the Greeks and no one to bail us out.

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blight_ October 19, 2011 at 8:00 pm

SS + Medicare > Defense + VA. And in defense, the majority of the funds go to payroll and infrastructure.

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Frivolac October 19, 2011 at 11:39 pm

right, social programs are more important than military spending…as such they consume a larger portion of discretionary funds. Military spending is vital but ultimately less productive in creating wealth than investments in education, clean food/water/pharma, courts, roads, police, welfare.

We need to maintain a strong defense, but can no longer afford to blindly fund a Pentagon that can't account for trillions of taxpayer dollars.

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SMSgt Mac October 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm

If you are referring to that bogus 'study' in the news lately, be advised it was released specifically for the purpose of getting the drones to repeat the mantra, and the hope someone respectable would run with it. It wasn't even fresh 'dezinfromatsia' — just a steaming pile that didn't stick to the wall the first time they flung it either.

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Jeff October 20, 2011 at 7:00 am

I agree, better accounting practices need to be imposed. I just disagree about your perspective on the rest.

In alot of trade agreements with foreign countries, the US leverages its military assets; offering training, materiale, and presence… without that you have no trade agreements and less revenue streaming into the country.

Courts and police don't generate wealth… they foster an environment where wealth is possible, just as the military does. Education helps, but there are plenty of countries like Brazil or Iran, that have disproportionately highly educated portions of their populations, but not the economy to provide them jobs. China doesn't have clean food or water, and yet they are a growing economy.

Welfare is inherently less wealth generating; you are taking disposible income away from a segment of the population, where it would have been spent on high end goods with large profit margins or reinvested somewhere it could be used to pay for employees or equipment to grow businesses…. but are instead given to a segment of the population that due to necessity can only spend it on low margin goods.

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blight October 20, 2011 at 9:04 am

I think of it as propping up a working class that would otherwise slip into a destitute class. It has always been easier for government to cut a check, but the better solution would be government finding a job. Something about teaching people how to fish rather than giving them fishes, and then more fishes dependent on how many children they have…

Kski October 19, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Get a Harrier pilot with combat experience then will talk. For now I remain a skeptic.

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jumper October 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

What, exactly, would that have to do with anything?

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tiger October 21, 2011 at 10:17 am

The man is a Test pilot. Perhaps he knows a thing or two more than your Avg. web poster…

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OMEGATALON October 19, 2011 at 10:42 pm

The F-35B Lightning II is proving that it is a capable fighter jet as it has avionic software which allows the F-35B to hover or land vertical without as much pilot input as the usage of a F-18 pilot for the test flight of the F-35B was possibly to demonstrate how easy the vertical landing can be accomplished without Harrier experience.

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Jeff October 20, 2011 at 7:03 am

The F-35B has always been the driving design behind the program.When this started the Air Force and Navy didn't want the F35 as much as it was the Marine's baby,,, so I'm just glad at least they'll be fully satisfied. On the other hand now that its working, I bet the Government starts talking about canceling it; its what they always do… as idiotic as that could be.

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jumper October 20, 2011 at 9:23 am

The Air Force wanted a new strike fighter and I recall during the original RFP proccess they decided the best way to get the numbers they wanted was to make this a "JSF" type aircraft that would spread the cost of R&D over 3 branches and international partners. If the Marines were driving this as strictly a Harrier replacement I think the aircraft would look quite different than it does now. The B has always been the biggest engineering challenge and the biggest political lightning rod.

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Shail October 20, 2011 at 10:14 am

Now these tests being done,
are they being conducted with simulated practical warloads (with both the internal bays and external hardpoints tested under ship conditions),
or is it just a mostly-empty aircraft with nothing more than test instrumentation and no weight of anything simulating any munitions?

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tiger October 21, 2011 at 10:27 am

One step at a time in a Flight test program. Step one: fly. Step 2: Find its limits. step 3: weapons tests & such…. All in time.

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tiger October 21, 2011 at 10:24 am

I wonder what life would have been like in WW 2 if the Internet was around?? People bashing the P-51A and it's Allison engine. People saying buy more P-40's, Others bashing Monoplanes & metal surfaces. Debates on Autogyros……. Only a Navy test pilot can judge Navy plane posts?

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Zepheris October 22, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Some things works out over time with great effort and refit, back in war… those effort cost human lives as the flawed system weakness is discovered in the field.

But we know from the history that the developer or the contractor are not always willing to accept the problem and fix it properly until SOMEONE lit up a fire in their pants.

Mark 14 magnetic torpedo for instance back in WW2, so while it's human nature to complain and whine to an extent… if they are valid complaint then that's worth noting still.

And let's face it, if it was serious enough that the program partner country themselves are voicing concern… then you know it's a REAL trouble. Remember MBT-70? Yeah, not all the troubled programs in the past that went over budget and delayed went through in the end, quite a few in fact… are dead though the tech is reused later, but either way, lots of money goes down the drain when it happens.

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Hermine July 4, 2013 at 11:15 am
chaos0xomega October 19, 2011 at 1:52 pm

no, we're really not. I think we'll be lucky if we end up buying half the planes that were originally intended for the program.

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