‘It’s Easy,’ F-35B Pilots Say
Landing an F-35B vertically is more straightforward than it looks, and far easier than doing the same in an AV-8B Harrier, said Peter Wilson, a former U.K. military aviator who is now BAE Systems’ chief test pilot.
“It’s just like magic,” Wilson told the reporters who assembled at the Farnborough International Airshow to hear about the Joint Strike Fighter from a pilot’s point of view. “It’s so much easier, so much less workload.”
Putting the jet into vertical-landing mode requires “just the push of a button” to open the air vents and ready the lifting fan, said Lockheed Martin chief test pilot Alan Norman. “You had to be an octopus to fly a Harrier.”
“It’s easy” was a recurring theme in the Lockheed-run presentation, which was opened by a Marine Corps captain who noted that the pilots were not here to talk about “programmatic” questions. (Questions about, say, the June GAO report that calculated “costs of $395.7 billion, an increase of $117.2 billion (42 percent) from the prior 2007 baseline” or contention that the report understated the case.)
Instead, the pilots were fulsome in their praise for the jet, whose test program “is alive and well, and ahead of track,” Norman said.
Wilson described the F-35B’s sea trials last year, which included flights by an F/A-18 Hornet pilot with just 20 vertical landings in the jet.
“After three or four landings, you couldn’t tell his from anyone else’s,” he said.
Wilson said even the crew who supported the F-35B’s sea trials preferred the new aircraft to the Harrier because they found it more predictable in its descent.
Worries that the jet might damage the deck or blow people overboard proved unfounded, he said.
Back on land, the F-35 training program at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., is preparing to begin the evaluation that will allow the classroom doors to open, said Marine Corps Col. Arthur Tomassetti, the training unit’s vice commander. Tomassetti said the process might begin later this month and last perhaps three months, making it likely that the first official classes of F-35 pilots and maintainers will begin this year.