Flying the F-35 is ‘Magic,’ Pilots Say

FARNBOROUGH, England — When’s the last time you heard a fighter pilot shrug, look down and say, “Eh, my airplane sucks.” Or as one might say here, “Blimey, me jet is roobish!”

So all other things being equal, it wasn’t surprising that three experienced aviators convened by defense behemoth Lockheed Martin raved about its F-35 Lightning II, but their descriptions about operating it were nonetheless interesting. In the small world of fast-jet drivers, the number of F-35 pilots is minuscule.

Lockheed’s chief test pilot, Alan Norman, said he was amazed how “easy” it was to learn to fly and master the F-35. The Marine Corps’ top F-35 trainer, Col. Art Tomassetti, said young aviators don’t need to learn to read analog gauges and memorize unsafe RPMs or temperatures the same way they used to; instead the F-35’s glass cockpit has green, yellow and red indicators that give such info in a second. And BAE’s test pilot, Peter Wilson, a longtime British Harrier driver, said flying the B was simply “magic.”

Wilson described how much work it took monitoring the Harrier’s controls, controlling its power, and generally trying to put the airplane where he wanted as he hovered and landed. (“You had to be an octopus to fly the Harrier,” Tomassetti quipped.) With the F-35B, Wilson said, he pushes a single button, and the jet can slow from 200 knots to a hover by itself, “as the airplane looks after you.”

Wilson was asked about the ungainly appearance of the B in its short takeoff and vertical landing mode, when the jet sprouts all manner of crazy hatches and ports and even a big air brake aft of the cockpit. Do all those surfaces make it tough to fly? Far from it, Wilson beamed.

“You think, ‘what’s the pilot doing?'” he said. “He’s pushing a button and flying as normal.” From the cockpit, the B does exactly what it’s told and its pilot doesn’t even notice the brake or the hatches or any of the rest of it, Wilson said.

37 Comments on "Flying the F-35 is ‘Magic,’ Pilots Say"

  1. Anyone else concerned this is making the pilots lazier and too dependent on instruments? Electronics will ultimately fail and if the pilots are becoming too "armchair" in their flying will they be equipped to handle these contingencies?

  2. elmondohummus | July 10, 2012 at 11:47 am | Reply

    The whole invocation of "magic" disturbs me. "Magic" is mysterious and not meant to be understood. It implies a black box of ritual, not a competent grasp of fundamental reasons for how something works.

    Also: "You think, ‘what’s the pilot doing?’” he said. “He’s pushing a button and flying as normal.” Anyone remember the 1998 "Lost in Space" movie? When Matt LeBlanc's character rips on the Jupiter 2 by saying "And the monkey flips the switch"? That, too, comes to mind when reading this article's quotes.

  3. This kind of story makes me smile. It's great to hear that people appreciate the engineering efforts that go into something like this. And Black Owl can **** off.

  4. Put on your tinfoil hat already. "OMG someone has a positive opinion of something I don't like! PAID CORPORATE SHILL!!!!!"

  5. I’m with you. If they insist on making planes easier to fly, they should at least integrate an advanced sudoku game into the HUD to keep pilots sharp.

  6. The only thing magical about the F35 is how it is making more and more money disappear with an IOC that is hidden behind a curtain at some point in the future.

  7. Chet Steddman | July 10, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Reply

    Yea because monitoring more gauges and instruments is really going to burn those calories…these new aircraft are designed so that the pilot can focus more on the mission and what's going on around them and less on numerous gauges and instruments…new technology does this sort of thing…but hey maybe we should go back to using muskets, the longer reload process should really add to the fitness of the troops…

  8. And what happens with those fancy displays and Christmas Tree lights go on the blink?

    Let me guess, the turbine outlet temperature gauge is somewhere down around the pilot's left ankle. He will be so heads down trying to find it he will inevitably lose SA and get his ass-waxed by some guy in a revamped Mig-21 who was able to close his six after that 4-gen IR missile that blew up on a proximity fuse dusted the bus that transfers power for the display.

    Anyone want to start running the cost vs. benefit ratio on that one?

    Technology is great. I work in IT. However, its not so great when it breaks and is unusable. I'd be a wee bit uncomfortable being dependent on so much electronics. I can run redundant control runs, but I cannot pack redundant displays.

  9. test, to see if my comments will post?

  10. In any case, it's a counter response to simply packing a ****pit with more dials and gauges than a pilot can monitor.
    http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/factshee

    Edit: Damn you deftech, but hopefully you guys can make the appropriate substitutions.

    There are two solutions: Reduce the number of gauges and sensory input only to the bare minimum (lights instead of gauges and more automation). Add more gauges. Or make aircraft more simple and obviate more inputs in the first place.

  11. I'm sure the drivers are telling the truth…..

    Flying the thing ain't gonna be like the CV-22….

    But I just have this thought…..

    Sell….Sell….Sell…

  12. Though the article doesn't say it, I would opine that the green/yellow/red displays on a glass c-pit are probably better than your standard car "idiot lights" on the dash board. For instance, you have battle damage, but so far your engine is still cool enough, the gauge is "minimized" as a green light. Engine temp spikes into the yellow, the gauge itself pops up, IN YELLOW to get your attention, so you arn't constantly monitering it. It spikes into the red, you get a red gauge, and maybe a flashing light, and its actually showing you time to max temp/ estimated time till turbine failure. Hell, they put this kind of stuff in vidiot games these days, why not put that kind of functionality in a glass c-pit fly by wire aircraft?

  13. 4FingerOfBouron | July 10, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply

    Are you 12?

  14. This is the REAL Black Owl. Although I am flattered that someone thought I was worth impersonating. I will most likely change my name since there is now an imposter on the site. Just look at the writing and see if you can recognize it as me.

  15. A quote from
    America's Deadliest Sniper
    Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle

    His favorite engagement distance? “The closer the better,” he said, because sniping is not a marksmanship challenge, it’s a deadly job of shooting as many enemy personnel as possible."

    I think our goal with the F-35 is making the deadly job easier, and nothing more.

  16. What up administrator? My comments don't break your rules.

  17. ok, so this thing flies itself. then why does it even need a pilot?

    here's a hint, don't spend $150+ million on an aircraft that is ment to go into combat, that's what UAVs are for

    also the greatest comput in the world isn't going to help much when you've fired all 4 missiles and are dogfighting with 5th Gen Sukhois that outnumber you 3 to 1

  18. Then the enemy jams your communication system and your entire fleet of combat aircraft crashes. Opps.

  19. this machine is quite amazing when you read its stats. anytime you have a new platform with fresh innovation, there are bound to be critics. people don't like change, but sometimes it is needed for innovation purposes. from what can be gathered, most of the criticism comes from certain design details that are counter to the norm, possible leaks due to computer hackers, and the pricetag … overall, this thing is pretty futuristic…

  20. A – B – C
    A= Always
    B= Be
    C= Closing

    Since this aircraft's "glass cockpit" can't be complete until they get a working helmet mounted HUD, I guess that they really mean that flying the aircraft is easy as long as you don't need to complete a combat mission.

  21. But they still cost flyaway
    A 160 mil
    B 220 mil
    C 190mil

    Yea they fucking better fly like magic….to bad the thousands of aircraft they want wont ever be bought which makes each one more expensive…

  22. For all the griping that takes place here about the F-35 it’s too bad there’s so little appreciation for something good.

  23. I liked my grandmas old hang me down New Yorker until I got a Grand National…

  24. Ok, break out the slik scarfs & leather jackets for those Prime pilots hanging on Pancho's wall…… Today's guys can still move a stick & rudder & not make a hole at Edwards……

  25. Our Typhoons/Gripens still blow the f-35 out of the skies. Even the f-22 was outmatched by our jets. Operation Red Flag anyone? You Americans make everything so expensive and now our stupid governments, already in a tardfull of debt, press on with this incontrovertible deal. I rather have the su-35 or pak-50 than this flying lard.

  26. iamwillcummings | July 10, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Reply

    gotta say, no matter what anyone thinks or wants, tech is going to someday replace most human senses, especially common. whether this is good or bad will float from one scenario to another. the cost is always gonna be scary, thats literally the price you pay for the next big thing. the best things we can all hope for is good engineering and quality handiwork- equipment cant fail if its built the best way possible!!
    on a personal note- im loving the new tech..side by side comparison of chinook and osprey anyone??

  27. Considering what Stuxnet did to Iran's nuclear centrifuges, do we really want computer software running so much of an expensive combat aircraft?

  28. it' good to hear the pilots are happy. I'm sure it will be the most advanced swiss army knife aircraft when it is operational..and yeah it can't do everything/mission well.. but ya can't have everything..

  29. can he do a 180 so I can see?

  30. Who cares about the dependancy on electronics – if there is ever a major war we will all need to train pilots fast, this caters for that

  31. Hmmmm – I dunno, didn't or wasnt there a bunch of hoopla, and lots of positive praises for the Raptor? And now all we hear about is the excessive cost & how they are a maintenance nightmare?

  32. Patriot Dreamer | July 11, 2012 at 10:00 am | Reply

    Less focus on what plane is doing allows more focus on what the enemy is doing! Redundant software & systems give considerable confidence in systems. Remember, both Voyager spacecraft have been working since 1967,

  33. USAF, B/A

    Euroman, why not go back to your belove spites, sp, and leave the real planes to your "SONS", USAIRMEN……………

  34. The first generation AV8 pilots thought similar things about the AV8B when compared to the AV8A. The AV8A was truly a fly by the seat of the pants aircraft as used by the Marines. If you took your hand off the stick for even a moment, you were in trouble. You had to really fly it and fly it every split second. Many of the many, and for those who remember, many early AV8A crashes were caused as much by pilots getting behind the plane as anything else. Imagine being a student AV8A pilot when first trained before the Marines had trainers (or simulators) and US pilots no longer when to England. Those who went through VMAT-203 before they had the two seat trainers , well, the first time they got in a harrier was the first time they got in a harrier. —-
    So, when I read the high praise that is given to the 35 I revel in the leap forward each generation takes. Imagine how the first aviators would view our planes in the jet age let alone the computer age. Imagine what the first Naval and Marine aviators would think of any of these planes. ——
    Now, in this age of aircraft that fly themselves, I wonder how we keep essential skills and the split second decision making skills that are necessary. We live in an age where our defense and government computer systems suffer millions of attacks in one day; where a Chinese, North Korean, Iranian or other hacker can do more damage in one hour than an entire battalion can do in a week. And consequently, we live in an age where potentially, a hacker can temporarily damage or disable our automated air, land and sea systems. —–
    I hope I'm wrong but even more I hope we have the basic skills to survive the fight when and if that day comes. I still think calculators and lap tops are terrific, but I also think knowing how to write and solve problems without them is important.

  35. All the marginal students in my flight training class got F-16s for this same reason: they're supposedly idiot-proof. Until the CPUs go tits-up, that is. The delicate electronics also fail their BIT tests half the time before even getting off the ramp. Don't know if that should be a blessing or a curse.

  36. I dont care what it costs or what it takes, GET THE F-35 AND THE F-22 INTO THE AIR. The US needs Muslim killers that are stealthy and plus I am thinking the Chinese are going to need to have their noses bloodied for trying to bully the Philippines out of their own islands…..

  37. I wonder how many of these planes ever gonna get of the ground.they have taken so long to make it off the drawing board,that several of the contries that was gonna by it has bailed out.Japan,norway and England are the only one left that's still wanna put money into that black hole.Last i've heard canada bailed out adn went back to their F18.
    Not to mention the F22 that was supose to be the figther of the 20th centruy,which are now all grounded due to problems with oxygen flow,that has costa few pilot their lifes

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