Tag Archives: F-35

Norwegian F-35 pilot: ‘We are on track’

He was the first Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II in November 2015. Since then, he flew the jet for 170 hours, all of those at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where he now serves as an instructor pilot. Right now, he and his Royal Norwegian Air Force colleagues begin preparations to ferry three F-35s to Norway later this year. It will be the first outing for the jet in the cold Nordic region. So, plenty of reasons for a chat with Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche, who says fighting an F-16 in an F-35 is an ‘uneven fight’ – in favor of the new jet.

Related reading: Dutch Lignting testers. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

AHF: Hi! Can you describe your previous flight experience for us?
Hanche: “Most of my previous flight experience was in the F-16,  which I flew for more than 2200 hours. I am a graduate from the a US Navy Test Pilot School In Patuxent River. After having flown the F-35 for 170 hours, I can now say I am starting to feel “at home” in the airplane. Combined, the number of flight hours by Norwegian F-35 pilots now stands at 800 hours.”

AHF: So you guys will bring the F-35 to Norway later this year. How are you preparing for the ferry flight and subsequent operations in Norway?
Hanche: “We are on track, in terms of both educating technicians and pilots and preparing for the first aircraft arrival. The Norwegian Air Force prepares to bring its first three F-35s to Norwegian soil on November 2017. As usual, we will buy tanker support for the transit leg across the Atlantic.”

Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche. (Image © Forsvaret)
(Image © Forsvaret)

AHF: Once in Norway, what does the plan look like?
Hanche: “Once in Norway, we will follow a crawl-walk-run approach as we start to familiarize ourselves with the F-35A in the “high North”, in adverse weather conditions. No one will have operated F-35s under quite the same circumstances at that point in time. Our only option therefore is to take it slow, and gradually increase the complexity of our training and testing.

The Norwegian Operational Testing (OT) will not focus on testing which has already been done in the US by the Joint Operational Test Team. Instead, we will focus on what’s unique for the Norwegian Armed Forces. That includes operating from icy runways and using the drag chute. That system is a unique factor: our F-35s will be fitted with a drag chute, which is designed to help slow the airplane during an aborted takeoff, or during landings on slippery runways.

Initial Operating Capability (IOC) is planned for 2019, which means that the time beforehand will be used both to train air- and ground-crew, and to support operational testing.”

AHF: In what way will the Norwegian public be introduced to the F-35?
Hanche: “There will be a reception ceremony at Ørland Main Air Station in south-central Norway, near Trondheim, in November. The planning is however still in the initial phase so we will release more details later.”

AHF: In what way is the F-35’s Autonomous Logisitics Information System (ALIS) be able to support operations in Norway? ALIS is plagued by development delays.
Hanche: “Some call ALIS the heart of the F 35, while others call it the brain of the F 35. ALIS is an information technology infrastructure that captures and analyzes aircraft condition data from the F-35, supporting fleet operations, maintenance, fault-prediction and supply chain management. ALIS will be delivered in time for the first aircraft arrival.”

AHF: What kind of weapon’s capability will the Norwegian F35s have?
Hanche: “At the time of IOC, the Norwegian F-35As will be equipped with the 25 mm cannon and the 25 mm APEX round, the AIM-9X block II, the AIM-120C7, GBU-12, GBU-31 and GBU-39. A little down the road, our F-35s will also carry several other air-to-air and air-to-ground stores, including the Joint Strike Missile (JSM). The JSM is in its final development phase, and our aim is to have the missile integrated on the F-35 and ready for service with the Norwegian Armed Forces by 2025.”

(Image © Forsvaret)

AHF: In the future, what will training look like for a Norwegian F-35 pilot, starting with initial training?
Hanche: “In the future, Norwegian F-35 training will be very similar to what we are currently doing with the F-16. We will send our young cadets through an initial screening program back home, in order to find out if they are able to absorb the training they will receive once in the USA. Following that, and an initial session at the Norwegian Air Force Academy for basic officer’s training, our students will complete basic training on the T-6 Texan II and the T-38 Talon at Sheppard Air Force Base. Following that, our students will be sent to Luke for a longer and more involved basic course.”

AHF: What can you tell us about the syllabus for Norwegian F-35 pilots?
Hanche: “The syllabus at Luke is tailored to the individual student but is now generally a  transition syllabus for pilots coming from different  airframes. This syllabus is shortened compared to the basic course syllabus which is designed to accommodate a young and inexperienced pilot, straight from undergraduate pilot training.

In general, the syllabus involves classroom academics, self-study, simulator practice and lastly flying the airplane. The students go through many weeks of ground training and simulator practice before it is time to strap into the jet. The initial training focuses on the basics: How to start up, take off and land. There is also significant emphasis on emergency procedures, in order to prepare the student for a myriad of “what if”-scenarios.

After learning the basics of how to operate the airplane in a pure administrative setting, the syllabus rapidly moves on with tactical employment. We start simple, and gradually build up in intensity and complexity.”

AHF: In what way does training in Luke prepare pilots for the Norwegian theater? What adaptations are needed?
Hanche: “The basic course at Luke will prepare our Norwegian students for the role as a wingman – a pilot who is qualified to fly the entire width of the tactical spectrum in the F-35. However, we will have to add on some aspects when we get our young pilots back home to Norway. One perspective is that the perpetual summer conditions found here in Arizona do not lay the foundation for solid instrument flying procedures. Therefore, we will put significant emphasis on brushing up this basic skill, combined with flying in adverse weather conditions. We do not foresee a checkout requirement for the drag chute, but it still has to be done. Lastly, we will focus on training our young pilots on more specific procedures, like executing NATO Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) missions.”

The first Royal Norwegian Air Force F-35 lands at Luke AFB. (Image © US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Marcy Copeland)
(Image © US Air Force / Staff Sgt. Marcy Copeland)

AHF: Luke is an international F-35 training school. What is the interaction between various nations like? Do Norwegian pilots fly with Australians colleagues for example?
Hanche:The partnership at Luke is very valuable for a small nation like Norway. We train and fly together here, using the same standards and tactics. We mix and match with aircrew and airplanes, so that one day you might find a four-ship of F-35As composed of a Norwegian flight-lead in an Italian F-35, a US wingman in a Norwegian F-35, an Italian element lead in a US F-35 and an Australian pilot in another Norwegian jet. The interaction across nationality is important for several reasons. First of all we build trust in each other, so that when we one day meet in a coalition setting, we know that we can work well together. Another perspective is that the standardization in how we do business makes it not only realistic, but easy to integrate a future coalition fleet of F-35s. Another perspective comes from the fact that the instructor cadre at Luke right now is composed of pilots with very different backgrounds. We have pilots here who flew everything from F-15Cs, F-15Es, A-10s, AMXs, F-22, Tornado, Eurofighter, F-18 and theF-16. Therefore, there’s a lot of varied and good knowledge gathered here to tap into, and it makes for an interesting and good learning environment.”

AHF: Is any testing being done by Norwegian pilots right now?
Hanche: “There is no dedicated operational testing going on at Luke. However, lessons are learned here at Luke from time to time, which might benefit the entire F-35 community. All the partner nations work closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin, in order correct any deficiencies – deficiencies that are inevitable given such an advanced airplane.”

AHF: What has been your most memorable F-35 experience so far?
Hanche: “It is difficult to pick out one specific situation. However, the first flight in the F-35A was an obvious highlight. Several things immediately struck me on that first flight. For one how well the F-35A handles, both on the ground and in the air. It is a well-behaved airplane. Another early impression was how powerful the F-35A is. The Lightning has an impressive acceleration and rate of climb, and the airspeed can easily “run away” from you if you do not pay attention. Another more specific highlight would be the first time I fought F-16s. It was impressive to see just how uneven that fight is, in favor of the F-35.”

AHF: The Norwegians have trusted the F-16 with defending their country for close to four decades. What will happen to these F-16s?
Hanche: “As we receive the first Norwegian F-35, we will gradually phase out the aging F-16 by 2021. It has not been decided yet what then will happen to them.”

Many thanks to Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche and Norwegian MoD for making this possible.

(Image © Forsvaret)

F-35 price set to fall – but it already was

The price of a single Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is set to fall, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson said last week. She announced the cost reduction as part of pending deal with deal with US president-elect Donald Trump. The deal should also see the creation of thousands of extra US jobs. It puts a a lot of extra pressure on the F-35 program.

According to Hewson, the price of the next 90 aircraft will reduce significantly under the deal. The question remains by how much the F-35’s unit price will fall and how this relates to a price reduction announced earlier. Currently, the price is 98 million USD for a single ‘vanilla’ F-35A, but that price was already set to drop to 85 million USD by 2020,  as result of ‘numerous affordability measures to drive costs out of the program.’ Both the F-35B and F-35C versions remain more expensive than the F-35A.

A Royal Netherlands Air Force F-35A. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Negotiations

The reduction mentioned by Hewson most likely concerns aircraft in Low Rate Initial Producion (LRIP) lot 10, which is currently being negotiated and includes 94 jets for the US plus other nations . A deal on LRIP-9 was only signed last November, involving 57 aircraft worth 6.1 billion USD. The cost of LRIP-9 was the subject of many months of hassle and talks between Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon.

It most likely these drawn out negotiations that sparked Trump’s criticism. Meetings with several top Pentagon and F-35 program officials did little to impress Trump. On the contrary, it probably only incented him in his determination to drive down costs. As we wrote earlier, he may actually do the US a favour by doing so.

A US Navy F-35C during carrier tests. (Image © US Navy)

Air Force One

It’s the second time Trump appears to have pressured a large aircraft manufacturer in lowering costs, the first of course being Boeing. After Trump’s threat to cancel the contract for a new Air Force One, Boeing was quick to say that it will keep costs below 4 billion USD.

But Trump’s victories so far only exists on paper. Wether Lockheed Martin and Boeing indeed succeed in keeping down costs, remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see also how they do it. And it will also be interesting to see Trump’s response if they fail – not to mention the response of F-35 customers. They already knew the unit price was set to fall, but now they’re counting on even lower prices.

It puts a of pressure on a weapons program that is anything but pressure-free.

© 2017 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest

A Japanese F-35A, seen in the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Our top 10 aviation moments of 2016

So that’s 2016 almost over and done with. This past year saw  military aviation headlines wizz by in a  record and sometimes worrying tempo. Donald Trump’s pending presidency along with Putin’s neverending desire to show Russia’s potential will decide the pace for 2017. But for now, let’s look back at a year that wothout a doubt had it’s moments here at Airheadsfly.com. And for all readers: thanks for doing so and a happy new year to you all!

10.

The Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford saw the F-35 for the first time. But this supposed star of the show was outstaged by the fabulous F-22 Raptor. Seeing is believing.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

9.

Early in the year, we flew the Airbus Helicopters UH-72A Lakota helicopter, courtesy of the US Army in Germany.  They come in green but also in this wild combination of colours, which stands out against the German countryside…. like a bruised banana. Because that’s what these machines are nicknamed.

(Image © Dennis Spronk).

8.

A Lightning in blue skies. Early June, we boarded a Royal netherlands Air Force KDC-10 tanker aircraft for a sortie alongside the F-35A Lightning II over the North Sea. It’s in the air where the beast becomes a beauty.

(Image © Dennis Spronk)

7.

A beast, that is also what this Eurofighter Typhoon was at Fairford in July.  Fully tooled up and piloted by BAE Systems test pilot Nat Makepeace, this jet gave all other Typhoon diplays at the same airshow – and there were plenty- a run for their money.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

6.

A top shot from Paweł Bondaryk, our guy in Poland. He was on scene when the Polish Air Force took delivery of its first Leonardo Aircraft M-346 Bielik trainer jets, capturing one of the aircraft peacefully after the delivery flight.

(Image © Paweł Bondaryk)

5.

Airheadsfly.com was also on scene on when both Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) touched Dutch soil for the first time on 23 May 2016. The weather did not cooperate in any way, but as both jets came to rest and festivities ended, all was well. “An awesome experience”, recounted one of the pilots.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

4.

Between 21 February and 4 March, Portugal was the stage of annual exervise Real Thaw. Our contributor Jorge Ruivo was there to provide you with some much needed burner action. These burners belong to a US Air Force F-15C Eagle.

(Image © Jorge Ruivo)
(Image © Jorge Ruivo)

3.

So yeah, of course our flight in the Leonardo Aircraft M-346 Master has to be in this. With hundreds of pictures taken, it’s a pity that we can show only a small selection. Here’s one of formation leader Cobra 1 over a fine turqoise Italian coastline.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

2.

Turkey made a lot of news headlines this year. And ok, technically it may have been 2015 when Dirk Jan de Ridder took this shot of two Turkish Air Force T-38 Talons. But we sure were glad to bring it to you in 2016 as part of a feature story on pilot training in Turkey. And given the fact that a lot of Turkish fast jet pilots were fired from duty after the failed coup, there’s a lot of training of new pilots to do.

(Image © Dirk Jan de Ridder)

1.

Looking back at 2016, it has to be said:  it was the year of the F-35 Lightning II. We learned a lot about the program during successful visits to Edwards Air Force Base in the US and Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. Furthermore, at Airheadsfly.com we were among the very first media ever to be allowed access to F-35 production in Cameri, Italy.

The F-35 program celebrated major steps in 2016, such as the Initial Operation Capability within the US Air Force, but also the delivery of more aircraft than even before, including new jets for Israel and Japan.

There were setback also: insulation problems kept many jets grounded for weeks, while Canada opted not to buy the F-35 for now. Last but not least, president-to-be Donald Trump started taking swings at the program’s costs. And yes, development of this jet is expensive and still has some way to go – but it will get there and it will be impressive. And perhaps prove necessary.

(Image © Elmer van Hest)

Trump’s focus on F-35 costs may serve US well

Donald Trump’s latest tweet on the F-35 will cause Lockheed Martin executives to have a not-so-merry Christmas, while the opposite will be true in the Boeing board room. After meeting top executives from both companies and being briefed on the F-35 this week, Trump on Thursday said he has asked Boeing to ‘price-out a comparable F-18 Super Hornet’.

Lockheed Martin’s stock immediately went down again, mirroring the effect of Trump’s earlier tweet about the F-35. However, the president-elect criticism  probably is not pointed at the F-35 itself, but at the program’s costs. Trump has made it very clear now that he will not accept such overruns after he moves into the White House in January. At the same time, Donald Trump seems to be preparing for an arms race, even stating this week that the US should expand its nuclear capabilities.

Being the businessman that he is, Trump obviously wants to keep the costs of such an arms race down. He probably realizes that his country is at a disadvantage compared to Russia and China, who are able to produce weaponry against far lower costs. China for example is developing new stealthy jets at an impressive and alarming rate. In Russia, a single new Sukhoi T-50 is many millions and millions of dollars cheaper than a single new F-35. This is indeed worrying for Trump. The signs of an arms race are already there and not to be ignored.

When it comes to the Boeing F-18 Super Hornet as an alternative for the Lockheed Martin F-35 – that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It will definitely not be as stealthy and not as capable in the domain of  gathering and spreading data. Also, the F-35 is getting closer to being fully combat ready every day.

But Trump most likely is not interested in ditching the F-35 in favour of a cheaper Super Hornet. He is interested in costs, and that may serve the US well in the end.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A US Air Force F-35A, seen at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Exclusive: spotlight on F-35 production in Italy

In an enormous rectangular building in Cameri, Italy, a group of people swarms over the grey object that among them is known as AL-5. To others, it is known as the fifth Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II for the Italian Air Force. But judging by the language used, it’s not Italians who seem to turn AL-5 inside out. They are Americans, employed by Lockheed Martin and the US Department of Defense (DoD). And their job at hand is quality inspection of a factory fresh, Italian-made F-35 Lightning II.

An F-35A inflight. (Image © Lockheed Martin)
Related reading: F-35 takes a hit – from Canada. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Airheadsfly.com’s recently paid a very exclusive visit to the rather secretive F-35’s Final Assembly and Check Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, which is run by Leonardo Aircraft and which rolled out its first F-35 in March 2015. The FACO is the result of extensive negotiations involving Italy, the US, Lockheed Martin and Leonardo Aircraft prior to 2010.

Development of the site started as soon as the ink was put on the contract. When epxloring the facility, it is hard to image that this 22-building, one million square feet complex was raised from the ground up in just three years. It is one of only three F-35 final assembly lines in the world, the others being Lockheed Martin’s production plant in Forth Worth, Texas, and Mitsubishi’s FACO in Nagoya, Japan.

Cameri sees final assembly of F-35A and B models for Italy, plus  F-35As for the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) in the future. Other potential customers  may follow as well. “So far, we have completed delivery of four jets to the Italian Air Force, and we’re getting ready to hand over AL-5 as well. The first four were flown to the US for pilot training, but the fifth will stay in Italy. It will be delivered to the 32nd Stormo (wing) at Amendola airbase soon”, says brigadier-general Giuseppe Lupoli, F-35 FACO program manager on behalf of the Italian Ministry of Defense.

(Image © Airheadsfly.com)
Work in progress on an F-35A for the Italian Air Force. Visible in the background is the first F-35B to be produced in Cameri. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)
An F-35A takes shape in one of 11 assembly docks in the Cameri FACO. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)
An F-35A takes shape in one of 11 assembly docks in the Cameri FACO. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Assembly

Situated in the center of the FACO is the assembly hall. It covers eleven assembly bays, in one of which Leonardo Aircraft employees now crawl under and over AL-8, the final aircraft of an initial order of eight F-35s from Italy. The same hall also covers five bays for future maintenace, repair and overhaul works on the Lightning II.

Whereas in Fort Worth the hugely expensive 5th generation fighter jets are manufactured on a moving production line, in Cameri an F-35 stays in a specific assembly bay for the whole build process, with parts being brought to the jet. “Our bay approach is certified by Lockheed Martin and elements of it have even been introduced in Fort Worth”, says Lupoli. At full speed, the Cameri FACO is said to be capable of delivering two new jets per month.

The first F-35 Lightning II from the assembly line in Italy (Image © Larry Bramblett / Lockheed Martin)
The first Cameri-built F-35 Lightning II was rolled out in March 2015.  (Image © Larry Bramblett / Lockheed Martin)

First F-35B

For now, production rate is not anywhere remotely near that. Most assembly bays remain unused and empty while awaiting a formal procurement decision from Rome. The exact numbers are debated for a considerable time already in Italy, but the country  currently is eyeing 52 more F-35As for its air force, plus 30 F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variants to be used by both navy and air force.  Meanwhile, the FACO understandably needs to keep the production flow going. Lupoli: “Because of long lead times, we are indeed moving ahead with production of parts for the next batch of jets.” Indeed, during Airheadsfly.com’s visit the first Italian F-35B was seen in final assembly, along with more A-models for the air force.

Dutch jets

Also, 2019 will see production of the first F-35s for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. The RNLAF has for several years been performing operational test and evaluation (OT&E) with its first two Lightnings in the US and should initially see delivery of six more from Fort Worth. The remaining 29 out of 37 aircraft ordered are to be assembled in Cameri.

(Image © Airheadsfly.com)
In Cameri, F-35s also receive their stealthy coating. Here, a full scale mock up is used to test the FACO’s associated installation. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Quality

In the Netherlands some concerns were raised over the fact that a 90 million USD aircraft designed and ordered in the US, is to be manufactured in an Italian factory. Those concerns were mainly about quality control…. and that’s were those Americans swarming over AL-5 come in. Not one F-35 leaves this FACO without a US pilot test flying it and without personnel from both Lockheed Martin and US DoD performing an inspection that easily lasts a couple of days. Pieces of blue tape on AL-5’s stealthy coating mark the spots that apparently are not up to standard.

Although their number has been greatly reduced since production got underway, the presence of US personnel in Italy comes as no surprise given the sensitive nature of the F-35. Lupoli: “Even with an aircraft destined for the Italian Air Force, we first hand it over to US DoD personnel for inspection and acceptance. Only then does US DoD hand it back  to our own air force. By doing so, quality control here in Cameri is totally in line with the US standard.”

(Image © Airheadsfly.com)
US personnel inspects AL-5 before acceptance. Only then will US DoD hand the aircraft over to its customer, being the Italian Air Force. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

Wings

Apart from complete jets, the FACO also produces full wing sets for use in Fort Worth, with a maximum capacity of 72 sets per year. Quality control is equally strict here. Experts check each wing before it is ‘closed’, which means the upper skin is joined with the lower skin, making components inside unreachable without extensive repair jobs. Recently, faulty insulation on piping inside the wing forced Lockheed Martin to do exactly that kind of work on dozens of F-35s. According to the Italians, the problem was not found on Cameri-made wings.

The work done is testimony of the skills acquired by Leonardo Aircraft employees in just a few years’ time. In total, F-35 works in Cameri should generate an estimated 6,000 Italian jobs and add 15.8 billion USD to the Italian economy.

Lifespan
The Cameri site is projected to be in operation for at least forty years, during which focus will shift more and more to maintance, repair and overhaul of European. Lupoli: “Over the next 15 years, we expect to reduce the number of assembly bays and turn those into additional bays for F-35 maintenance.”

That’s no surpise, given the fact that Cameri back in 2014 was appointed as  the sole provider of heavy F-35 airframe maintenance in Europe. But to maintain one of the world’s most advanced and expensive military jets, this facility will first have to build them. To a passing visitor such as Airheadsfly.com, it seems the FACO is ready to fill those empty assembly bays and do exactly that. It seems ready to fulfill its projected contribution to the Italian economy as well as European defense needs. All it needs, are more actual F-35s to build.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A view of F-35 production in Cameri. (Image © Airheadsfly.com)

The first F-35A for the Italian Air Force takes off from Cameri FACO (Image © Todd McQueen, Lockheed Martin
The first F-35A for the Italian Air Force took off from Cameri  in September 2015. (Image © Todd McQueen, Lockheed Martin)