At Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, Lt. Col. Nakano las week became the first Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) pilot to fly solo on the Lockheed Martin F-35. Luke currently provides training to pilots from the US, Australia, Israel, Italy, Norway and Japan.
“This is an historical event for JASDF and my career as a pilot,” said Nakano. “My first flight was perfect. The weather was fine, and the jet was great. I’ll never forget this day.” After completing his training at Luke, Nakano will be involved in standing up the first F-35 squadron in Japan. The country is looking to buy 42 F-35’s to replace ageing F-4 Phantoms and F-15J Eagles.
The first of three Japanese F-35s arrived at Luke for training last year. A fourth aircraft is expected to arrive in February. In total, Luke is scheduled to have six fighter squadrons and 144 F-35s. Pilots from South Korea, Turkey, Netherlands and Denmark will receive their future training at Luke also.
The F-35 program celebrated the delivery of the 200th operational jet this week. The aircraft, the second destined for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), departed Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth production facility for Luke Air Force Base, where it will be used to train Japanese pilots. Meanwhile, an official Pentagon progress report mentions continued delays in the F-35’s development and testing schedule.
Along with the delivery of the 200th jet, Lockheed Martin reports that the entire program has now logged 75,000 flight hours while training more than 380 pilots and 3,700 maintainers. Also, the year 2017 kicked off favourably for the F-35, with the first deployment of operational jets to Japan.
However – apart from Donald Trump’s fierce remarks on the F-35 – the program’s Director Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) mentions delay after delay in development and testing in a fresh report released this week by the Pentagon. The delays among other issues concern development of the ‘full warfighting capability’ block 3i software, plus problems related to weapons delivery and the aircaft’s gun system, which is now being tested. Also, the report mentions the issues US Navy pilots experience during catapult launches.
Structural deficiencies are reported in the aircraft’s tail section. Furthermore, a new version of the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS) was supposed to be released in 2016, but this failed to materialize. During operational tests, maintainance crews struggled with the huge amounts of data ALIS generates.
As a result, Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) will likely not start as scheduled in August 2017, but perhaps as late as in 2019.
Norway is set to double it’s F-35 fleet over the next few weeks with the delivery of the third and fourth aircraft to the Royal Norwegian Air Force. In fact, the delivery means that Norway suddenly becomes the third largest operator of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
The two aircraft are now being tested by Lockheed Martin prior to delivery. Both jets will then fly to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, joining the two Norwegian aircraft already there for pilot training. With the delivery, Norway becomes the third largest user of the F-35, following the US and the UK. The Nordic country is eventually looking for 55 F-35As, with 23 aircraft already formally ordered.
However, Italy should soon receive its fourth aircraft as well. The aircraft is currently being readied for delivery at the F-35 Final Assembly & Check Out (FACO) facility in Cameri, Italy. Earlier Italian aircraft have also began to arrive at Luke for training purposes.
Meanwhile, one of two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) jets that deployed to Europe in May, is now also at Luke. The aircraft arrived their for modifications and maintenance.
A Norwegian F-35 pilot stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, speaks favourable of the F-35’s dogfigthing capabilities in a blog published on Tuesday 1 March. His statements describe how the aircraft performs better than the F-16 at low speeds. His findings are similar to those of a Dutch F-35 pilot written here on Airheadsfly.com and contrast earlier reports.
Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche is a pilot with 2,200 hours on the F-16. Last year, he became the first Norwegian to fly the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II, of which Norway seeks 55. Hanche is now an F-35 intructor pilot (IP) at Luke Air Force Base.
In his blog, Hanche writes about his impressions during basic fighter manoeuvring (BFM) in the new jet. “The F-35 provides me as a pilot greater authority to point the nose of the airplane where I desire. This improved ability to point at my opponent enables me to deliver weapons earlier than I am used to with the F-16, it forces my opponent to react even more defensively, and it gives me the ability to reduce the airspeed quicker than in the F-16.”
Slow speed handling is crucial in close range dogfights. “Yet another quality of the F-35 becomes evident in this flight regime”, continues Hanche. “Using the rudder pedals I can command the nose of the airplane from side to side. The F-35 reacts quicker to my pedal inputs than the F-16 would at its maximum angle of attack (AOA). The F-16 would actually be out of control at this AOA.”
Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) pilot Ian ‘Gladys’ Knight earlier this year already described to Airheadsfly.com that slow speeds are where the F-35 performs better than the F-16. “Slow-speed and high AOA performance is much better than many fourth generation fighters like the F-16. High angle of attack testing has been an eye-opener for previous F-16 pilots, who are not used to very good slow speed performance. ”
Acceleration from the Pratt & Whitney’s F-135 engine impressed both Hanche and Knight. “It is evident that the F-35 has a powerful engine”, writes the Norwegian. His complete blog is found here.
The experience of both pilots contrasts with the findings of an anonymous US pilot, who reported the F-35 had hard time fighting an F-16, even though the latter was fitted with two wing tanks. His experience sparked a lot of critical reports and was mentioned in an annual program review by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.
UPDATED 6 February | The first Italian-made F-35A Lightning II is all set to start the type’s first ever Transatlantic flight to the US on Tuesday 2 February, sources in Italy confirm. A Boeing KC-767 tanker aircraft and a two seater Eurofighter Typhoon accompany the brand new fighter aircraft on its way, which includes a stop over at Lajes airbase in the Azores.
Update | The flight was delayed on 2 February due to weather. The F-35 left Italy on Wednesday 3 February and arrived in Lajes, Portugal, later in the day. A picture of the aircraft in Lajes is here. The F-35 and accompanying aircraft finally arrived at Patuxent River in the US on Friday 5 February.
An Italian Air Force pilot from the test squadron at Pratica di Mare will fly the F-35 on its flight over Atlantic, the very first of this kind for the new generation stealth aircraft. In the backseat of the Typhoon will be another Italian F-35 pilot. The flight to Lajes is expected to take 4.5 hours. Air-to-air refueling with the KC-767 was validated last year in the US.
Tests and training
After the stop over in Lajes, another 6.5 hour flight takes the F-35 and two accompanying aircraft to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in the US. The F-35 will then remain there for six weeks for tests, before finally moving on to Luke Air Force Base. Here, the aircraft wil be used to train Italian pilots.
The second Italian made F-35 is now performing test flights at Cameri and will be among four more Italian aircraft to follow the same route later this year. By the end of 2016, the sixth aircraft produced in Cameri will be the first to remain in Italy. Cameri will also see production of Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) jets.
Italy formally has eight F-35s on order and is still debating the final number of aircraft to be ordered. That number is expected to be 90, after dropping from 131 earlier.