The F-35 Pilot


08/19/2011 We have interviewed several F-35 pilots.  Most recently, we sat down with pilots at Pax River.  Comments from these pilots focused on easy of operations, and the ability of the pilot to operate as a deployed decision-maker.

Among the pilots we have interviewed, Lt. Col. Fred “Tinman” Schenk underscored was the following:

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.

Another USMC test pilot, indeed last year’s test pilot of the year, “Squirt” Kelly told us what he had learned since our visit last year:

What I have learned for sure since your last visit is how to do a vertical landing.  As an F-18 pilot, I don’t have any background in hovering or operating in that whole STOVL world. With probably fewer hours than a guy is going to have going through the training command and doing this through the simulator training to the flight, it was easy.

For guys graduating out of the training command, it was a process of learning step-by-step, follow the procedures, and hover.  You can let go of the controls.  It just kind of stays where you put it.

QUESTION: So it is not Harrier like at all

Kelly: Not at all.  In a hover and in a vertical landing, it’s a no-brainer.  It’s push the stick forward.  There’s even a descent button in the stick, which you use. The airplane lands itself.

It is very much forgiving to a guy who’s doing it for the first time, and it makes him look good.  In a hover and in a vertical landing it’s a no-brainer.

F-35 test flight operations occur at Naval Air Station (NAS) Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base in Texas, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and NAS Patuxent River, Md. The video captures some assessments from a variety of test facilities.