An Update on F-35B and F35-C Testing


07/25/2011 During Second Line of Defense’s visit to Pax River, we sat down with Lt. Col. Fred “Tinman” Schenk to discuss the state of testing on the USN and USMC F-35s and the way ahead.

"Tinman" Schenck during the Second Line of Defense Interview Credit: SLD

SLD: Could you give us a sense of your job here at Pax River?

Schenk: I am Colonel Cordell’s deputy and the Government Test Flight Director here. Essentially, my responsibilities are flight test execution.  I do the test plan approvals side of the business and try to stay really heavily engaged in the technical piece of the program. I deal with what’s going on with the airplanes and what issues are we working; making sure we’re safe to go execute flight tests.

SLD: How many aircraft are being tested here?

Schenk: We have F-35Bs and F-35Cs.  Currently, seven are on the flight line.  We have four F-35Bs and three F-35Cs.  We’re hoping to get BF5, our fifth F-35B, here in the next week or two.  [BF-5 arrived at the F-35 ITF on July 16]

SLD: What is your experience with the C?

Schenk: I’ve only flown the F-35C once, so I don’t have a broad experience base in the airplane. On the one flight, it flew very well.  I spent most of my time in the landing configuration, and it flew quite well in that configuration.

We’re just really getting started on the C program, so CF-1 has been here now for a couple of months.  We’ve started expanding the envelope.  We’ve had it out supersonic already and are starting to push the speed boundary and open up more of the flight envelope of the airplane.  CF-2 has been here for month and a half, maybe two.

SLD: What about the Brits?  Have they started transitioning from the B to the C?

Schenk: We do have two BAE systems pilots, and we have one Royal Air Force pilot.  Squadron Leader Steve Long was here and he rotated back to the UK, and Jim Schofield is his replacement.  Steve was initially focused on the F-35B, and now Jim will obviously be more focused on the F-35C.

SLD: “Squirt” Kelly discussed with us the flying qualities of the B and that as an F-18 pilot he has had no difficulty in flying the B.  What this may then mean is that you shift test time from just operating the aircraft to spending more time on the tactical training on the aircraft or working on the T and R manual?

Schenk: I think that’s a fair statement, and I think if you looked at the training syllabus that’s being developed you will see that.

SLD: This is an important line to cross.

Schenk: As a Harrier pilot, the F-35B is a major advance. Having grown up as a Harrier pilot and spent many, many hours doing takeoffs and landings and having the requirement to do every type of landing at least once every 30 days in the Harrier, the F-35B is a big improvement.

Because of the augmentation and the automation that’s in the airplane and the models and the simulators, we’ll find a lot less time being spent taking off and landing the airplane and spending much more time doing our mission in the airplane and being able to go get out there and take care of business and take care of the guys that are out there. We will spend more time on actual missions, rather than on re-qualifications.

The F-35 makes the basic flying task easy, and so now you have what we would call spare capacity to devote to other things, which allows the pilot to focus on the mission and the systems of the airplane.  The design of the airplane is intended to fuse information within the airplane — to make that task of managing the system easier.

You don’t have a radar giving you a piece of data.  You don’t have a FLIR giving you another piece of data.  You don’t have a radar warning giving you yet another piece of data.

What the F-35 gives you is a fused picture of all of that, so you don’t have to interpret separate data streams.  For example, my Link 16 is telling me something is here, but my radar is saying it’s over there, and this piece is kind of telling me it’s over there, and this one said it’s a bad guy, but that one is showing it as a good guy, and on legacy aircraft you have to filter what the various systems are telling you.  Now, the F-35 system is going to do a lot of that processing for you.

SLD: So you have two trajectories for the plane. One is, it is an easier plane to manage itself and then secondly, your ability to focus more on the decisions you’re supposed to take for your missions and so on and the man-machine relationship.

Schenk: Right.  That’s it.

SLD: And this will create a culture shift for the pilots as well.

Schenk: I think that the challenge will change. The F-35 is going to make the flying task a little bit simpler.  We’re trying to make the managing the system simpler, but now the pilots are going to be  bombarded with more information and it’s sharing that information with those who need to know that information on the  battlefield that will become the challenge.

SLD: What about the F-35B and the amphib fleet?  What are the testing plans?

Schenk: I’ve deployed on USS Wasp and on USS Nassau. And we will be testing the F-35B on the USS Wasp this Fall.

SLD: In your view as an ARG veteran, what will be the impact of the deployment of the F-35B on the fleet?

Schenk: We will take our ten or eleven carrier fleet, and we now will double the number of capital ships that can deploy a fifth generation fighter.

I saw the media reports on Libya and those kinds of things, and now, instead of having to  fly a B-2 from Whiteman Air Force Base, and get refueled to take out certain targets because we needed a stealth airplane for the mission, we’ll have the potential to have an L-class ship with F-35Bs or a CV with CFs on it, carrier F-35Cs, and be able to execute that mission without having to bring those airplanes from CONUS, air refuel them, fly all the way over and then fly all the way back.

You have a Day 1 capability on US Navy ships that you can float anywhere around the world. And that’s a tremendous capability for the Navy, the Marine Corps, and really, the nation, to have.

SLD: With the airplane going to Eglin and to the USS Wasp, the test program will enter a new phase.  What are some of the next key threshold tests?

Schenk: We’ve started to get the airplane supersonic.  We’ve got the B to 7gs, and I think the C has been to 6.5 or 7g already.

We’ve started to prove those pieces of the envelope.  Now we’re starting to stick the airplane into its operational environment.  The F-35C is going to Lakehurst here in the next month.

We’re going to start with just jet blast deflector testing, and then in July-August time frame, we’ll migrate into roll-ins, arrestments, and catapults.  We’ll do our initial catapults.

We’re starting to stick the C in that environment.  And then the B, of course, is focused on getting to the ship.