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.

  • Chris

    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?

  • elmondohummus

    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.

  • Pilgrimman

    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.

    • BlackOwl18E

      That was not me that wrote that. I was going to point out that those exact things on the F-35 that are so great can easily be added to the Super Hornet.

  • Pilgrimman

    Put on your tinfoil hat already. “OMG someone has a positive opinion of something I don’t like! PAID CORPORATE SHILL!!!!!”

    • BlackOwl18E

      Okay, I am now going to use this account when I comment here so people know it’s really me.

  • Nick

    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.

    • bobby

      The pilots still have to maneuver the damn jet. They still have to be sharp with fighting tactics. They still have to pull the trigger. They make the decisions, is that not what it takes when in combat. Is it not the bigger, more advanced stick that wins? The designers only make it less stressful on the pilot so that the pilot can think and act quicker, thus, ensuring the survival of not only the pilot but the jet, which is their investment.

  • STemplar

    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.

  • Chet Steddman

    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…

  • Bob

    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.

  • spidennis

    test, to see if my comments will post?

    • Nick

      Nope, didn’t work.

  • blight_

    In any case, it’s a counter response to simply packing a ****pit with more dials and gauges than a pilot can monitor.…

    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.

  • jamesb

    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…..


  • coolhand77

    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?

  • 4FingerOfBouron

    Are you 12?

  • Black Owl

    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.

    • Vaporhead

      Do you have split personalities? ;-)

    • blight_

      Just get an intensedebate account.

  • Uncle Bill

    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.

  • Uncle Bill

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

  • Sanem

    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

  • ncb1010

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

  • sirius

    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…

  • Eye1

    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.

  • Belesari

    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…

  • crazy

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

  • Kooch

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

  • tiger

    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……

  • Euroman

    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.

    • ghostwhowalksnz

      too silly for words, and Im not the F22s biggest fan!

    • William C.

      Right… this is the reason the F-22 has hundreds of simulated kills compared to a handful of simulated losses.

      The Typhoon is only now getting a full set of capabilities, Gripen isn’t much more than an F-20 in delta-wing form.

    • Praetorian

      Germans took thier Eurofighters to red flag :

      Seems like the Germans, that went up against the F-22 , had a different account of what happened as compared with the American pilots.

      • STemplar

        A different account of a staged fight where they are automatically within visual range.

      • Finn McMissile

        Weren’t the Raptors restricted by SecDef to prevent pilots from becoming disoriented mid-flight?

      • blight_

        The only problem with exercises is that both sides aren’t trying their damndest to kill each other. They are trying to win, sure, but exercises usually have a number of experimental conditions that constrain “free play”.

    • Woody

      What are you smoking?….there is nothing you Euros have that can match ANYTHING the US has…..your planes are 2nd rate compared to US designs, its been that why since the F-86 Super Sabre, and now once the 35 and the 22 gets the last of the nagging little “bugs” out of it, the two US fighters will dominate for easily the next 30 years….just be glad your on our side….ok?…

      • Praetorian

        The F-86 was the Sabre, & the F-100 was the Super Sabre

  • iamwillcummings

    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??

  • Jacob

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

    • ghostwhowalksnz

      Easy , you dont connect it to the internet. Seriously even a basic washing machine is run by software. There is no other way

    • blight_

      Verify your firmware works on day one and never change it. Write it to read-only media if you are paranoid.

  • Ems

    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..

  • B Bradly

    can he do a 180 so I can see?

  • Simon hansen

    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

  • charles

    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?

  • Patriot Dreamer

    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,

  • A/2c

    USAF, B/A

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


    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.

    • Hotdog

      The early AV8 were called “Widow Makers” for good reason. The first mistake the Marines made was taking pilots from the fixed wing pipeline when they should have been Helio pilots. The only thing that changed the future performance was the computerized flight controls, this made the plane easier to fly, or more pilot friendly.

  • mmannske

    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.

  • Woody

    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…..

    • blight_

      “The US needs Muslim killers that are stealthy”

      Lockmart approves your message. Whatever it takes to get another aircraft out the door. Its okay, it’s a Muslim Killer, mmkay?

    • tiger

      Oh boy…….. Folks Chill.
      Darth Vader & the Empire are not building a Death Star in Hong Kong.

  • Johnny rebel

    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

    • tiger

      The F-22’s are back in service.