It has been widely reported in the media that an F-35 was outperformed by an F-16, the truth is seemingly a little different.

This article should be prefaced by saying I don’t work for Lockheed Martin, BAE or any of the companies or organisations involved with the aircraft.

Now that’s out of the way we can begin, the accusations of the F-35 being inferior may seem shocking at first but it should be noted that the specific F-35 involved was ‘AF-2’, this airframe is designed for flight testing, it’s designed to fly in certain restricted flight envelopes. It does not feature the majority of systems present in frontline aircraft.

The aircraft, due to it being a test aircraft, had also not had the software installed that is required to use the sensors and mission systems that would be used in combat. Additionally, ‘AF-2’ does not feature the radar-absorbent material coating that operational aircraft have.

Articles making the claim that the F-16 is superior cite tests performed earlier in the year to assess the flying qualities of the F-35 during within visual range combat and the F-16 involved was used as a visual reference to maneuver against.

The aim of the test was to demonstrate the ability of the F-35 to fly to the edge of its restricted test limits without exceeding them. The test scenario was apparently successful as it allowed the aircraft be cleared for greater agility in future tests.

According to a recent press release from Lockheed Martin:

“It [the F-35 in question] is not equipped with the weapons or software that allow the F-35 pilot to turn, aim a weapon with the helmet, and fire at an enemy without having to point the airplane at its target.”

Test pilots say the additional maneuverability available as the aircraft expands its flight envelope after every test is a testament to the performance.

According to test pilot David “Doc” Nelson.

“Pilots really like maneuverability, and the fact that the aircraft recovers so well from a departure allows us to say [to the designers of the flight control system laws], ‘you don’t have to clamp down so tight’.”

Despite the claims that the F-35 is inferior to a decades old aircraft, previous exercises tell a different story. Over the last few years there have been occasions where a flight of F-35’s have engaged a flight of F-16’s in simulated combat scenarios, the F-35s reportedly won each of those encounters because of their sensors and low visibility.

This seems to be a case of comparing a test aircraft still in trials, that has a restricted flight envelope, against a mature dogfighter with no such restrictions.

Recently, a Royal Norwegian Air Force pilot responded to the now largely refuted headlines relating to the F-16 and F-35.

Major Morten ‘Dolby’ Hanche has flown many mock dogfights since becoming the nation’s first F-35 pilot last November.

In his blog, Hanche remarks:

“So how does the the F-35 behave in a dogfight? The offensive role feels somewhat different from what I am used to with the F-16. In the F-16, I had to be more patient than in the F-35, before pointing my nose at my opponent to employ weapons; pointing my nose and employing, before being safely established in the control position, would often lead to a role reversal, where the offensive became the defensive part.

When I push the stick forward; the F-35 reacts immediately, and not delayed like the F-16.”

He adds:

“The F-35 provides me as a pilot greater authority to point the nose of the airplane where I desire. (The F-35 is capable of significantly higher Angle of Attack (AOA) than the F-16. Angle of Attack describes the angle between the longitudinal axis of the plane – where nose is pointing – and where the aircraft is actually heading – the vector).

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.”

While there are valid complaints about the programme, the latest sensationalist headlines aren’t among them.

62 COMMENTS

    • A typhoon never beat a Raptor, you are daft. yeah yeah, I know the silly French put out a photo of a F22 in the kill box of a Rafale fighter. Only what they failed to tell you was that the photo came from a Red Flag drill held in the US. Those drills involve setup fights, sometimes the F22 starts with the other aircraft on its tail , sometimes the other way around. No one ever said a heavy F22 flying low and slow would be able to out maneuver another lighter modern aircraft. So the photo is bogus because that was when it was taken, in a set drill. In a real fight the silly Frenchman would have never seen the F22 as he would have used his stealth advantage to wax the Frog before he ever even knew the F22 was in the area.

      • Wer on about the f22 and the typhoons in the Mach loop trail I g area when the typhoons responded to f22 playing with them in the training area. The typhoons hammered then to the ad is ion and suprise of the f22 pilots. Consider yourself educated. Wer not on about a shitty photo

        • Consider yourself educated, at Red Flag, the Eurofighter Typhoon defeated the F-22 5 times while it had a transponder (Meaning the typhoon pilots knew where it was at all times) and it was limited in maneuverability, and even under those circumstances the F-22 defeated the Eurofighter 180 times, but okay

    • Jeez. You can climb down from cloud 9 now and come back to reality. No one cares about two Raptors getting killed out of 239 Typhoons/Raptor engagements were Raptors were overwhelmingly victorious. F15s, F16s and even older F5s have killed Raptors. Its the pilot that wins the fight not the plane.

  1. Well, while the F-35 may well outperform F-16 there can be no denying. But when it comes down to which has the better looks, I think the F-16 beats the F-35 hands down any day.

  2. The defence industry is never going to admit that the aircraft is mediocre (and our tax money that’s being used to buy these frivolous over-priced baubles)! Lockheed Martin must be so pleased.

    • Since it wasn’t a test to see if it could beat a F16, it was a test to see at which AoA (angle of attack) it could fly best and to see how good of a maneuverability it has… As stated by other people on this forum it has gone through tests wheter or not it could beat the F16 and because of its tech it could ;).

    • All development fighters have to fly against something in order to create unpredictable scenarios that challenges its flight control abilities. The F16 was a reference platform.

  3. Some of these comments (such as Kirsten) demonstrate that people don’t understand the test and development world. There’s no reason why they should, of course, unless they’ve been involved in it at some point.

    • That’s exactly what I though ! Engineering is something a little bit more complex than what people seem to think… Developping such an aircraft is a long long journey ! I heard that this aircraft will be 20 years ahead of anything else when ready ! Nobody will discuss the money it took to achieve such perfection. I’m canadian and we are also putting a lot of money into that project. Politicians (not the ones in power) a very critical about it and they try to make it look bad compared to F-16 for example. That is basic politics… They obviously will shout their mouths eventually…

  4. I think Jason Rushton makes a very valid point; the amount of dis-information being circulated about this project is remarkable. Is this the result of a negative media or those of a political opinion that we should not spend money on defence? Or is it coming from a more worrying source, are ministers and their civil servants releasing negative information about the project in order to prepare people for the sale or abandonment of the project?

  5. I have been looking with passing interest at all the negative press about the F-35 and have yet to understand where all expert opinions are coming from? The aircraft is being tested and examined in typical incremental stages as any test program will proceed and so far, the results have been nothing less than impressive. These rumours need to be accepted for what they really are: unqualified opinions.

  6. @ Lee Hodgson. I keep hearing a Typhoon killed an F-22. Are people confusing the Growler that got a kill or is the Typhoon kill number 2?

    As for disinformation, I believe the detractors are getting desperate. Their critiques have been bordering on ridiculous for some time now.

    • Those are all from “setups’ in a Redflag drill. Sometimes the F22 will start low and slow with an opposing fighter on its tail. To say a “This plane” or a “That plane” beat an F22 is silly and the fools that keep saying it show their ignorance of how these drills are conducted.

    • so what if a Typhoon killed an F-22? An old F-5 has killed an F22 before. So has the F15 and F16. It doesn’t make the F22 and less formidable. Pilots win battles not planes.

  7. More years ago simulations was done against Russian fighters. When we flew “Russian” fighters we were not allowed the Better russian missiles. When we would Like to fly 25 nautical miles line abreast so we could look more or less not straight forward on the F-35 and link the picture to the wingman so he could fire on the F-35 we were not allowed. The simulations gave a completely wrong picture. The F-35 was not “allowed” tp looser.
    Because of this (manipulation) a test pilot and I left the simulations. Returner to our home country and complained to the appropriate commands.
    The simulations gave a completely wrong picture of the real world.

  8. I had a comment on manipulation of simulations with F35 vs Russian fighters. That reply is not Here. Why was it not acepted?
    A test pilot and I left for homecountry and complained to appropriate commands about the sumulations we attended.
    F-35 loosing in those simulation was more than difficult because of restrictions on tactics and weapons on the “Russian” opponents.

    • You can’t write in proper English. You are not a trained fighter pilot in an English speaking country. It’s obvious how you write/grammar/spelling etc.

  9. Unfortunately the damage is already done.
    F-35 will remain in history as the most expensive airplane with software problems, nonfunctional gun, beaten by 4th generation airplanes.

    • Out of hundreds of tests, exercises and simulations there’s exactly ONE that said an F-16 defeated an F-35. That F-35 was a test aircraft ONLY, that was limited in its flight envelope.

  10. That is happened because you show many inovations , flight tests , diffrent software , errors … perfect for enemy and competition . That we can not know or see in China , Russia , we do not know nothing when they build weapons , only when is finished . Some conclusion can give only experts , pilots when is plane finish 100 % and ready for fight . Primary mission is destroy enemy far away and before enemy know how you are there . To much peoples , journalist , today are some experts and know everything about plane , better than producer ! On this plane works some of the best world engineers , companies … One Israel for which is perfect plane one of most important things want more F35 . For all war what i know west planes defeated others . Israel in few wars lost few or no one plane but destroyed all new Russian planes . F35 will be perfect plane , most sophisticated in world , he can produce fake plane like target , lead and control drone in fight and much more , plus one part is war secret , we can not know all !

  11. What good are your sensors and RAM when you are in a close in, visual range dog fight? The only thing that matters is your energy, turning capability and the ability to bring your gun to bear on the target. The f35 in question could not keep up with an F16 with drop tanks!! Even if the aircraft had sensors and software to aim and fire missles…he couldn’t as the helmet is to darn big to turn without hitting the canopy!!

  12. It should be called Porky or the Magic Penguin. This aircraft is a huge step backward in terms of energy maneuverability performance. The entire acquisition process was a Charles Foxtrot. 28 year Air Force Veteran. 2600 hours in an F16.
    Gulf War, OSW, ONW, OEF, OIF.

    • Yeah, right… you go get en Maverick! If you were a pilot you would understand software limited fight testing.

  13. The fact that F-35 is still in its developmental stage speaks for itself! DEVELOPMENTAL STAGE! So why are so many wannabe whiners out here? As I have noticed the dog-fight is under some limited testing stage meant for something… And there it is, the aircraft is for some edge of the system trial! Watch until US Marine’s F-35B gets into service and see how the real one functions in a real battlefield, then and only then that you can grudge on this program and call them junk.

  14. If you will all cast your mind back to the late sixties and early seventies you will find that TTF he same arguments were vaunted regarding the phantom development and the ability to avoid dogfights. The result? American 3rd gen aircraft were destroyed by the hundred by 1st gen MIGs . why? Because the MIGs could bloody dogfight , the no1 basic test on an airframe. Never never never rely on flipping tech it is the power agility of the airframe coupled with the guile and skill of a pilot that wins in battle. Nothing else. And do no forget that the ruski jets also do stealth but bloody hell do they dog figght. We need to up our game and stop thinking about saving face and just buy more typoons at least we know they perform!

    • People like you are too lazy to read up on history. In Vietnam ROE required USAF to perform visual identification prior to engaging a bogey. They had to resort to F-4 operating in pairs so one would go head on and ID the bogey while the second engaged with sparrows or sidewinders. BVR missiles were in their infancy but restricted ROE didn’t allow them to use the weapon to their advantage. Not only that USAF waged a limited war against the NVA air force allowing their them to operate from their base unmolested to sneak up on Thuds. So go ahead try flying a super maneuverable Mig-21 against a Tornado with missiles and see what happens.

      • You do realize that the US often had more aircraft in the air than the NVAF had operational period? Like unrestricted BVR would more than likely had led to a lot of Blue on Blue incidents especially considering IFF wasn’t exactly faultless.

  15. […] The UK Defense Journal summed up the controversy as follows: “While there are valid complaints about the programme, the latest sensationalist headlines aren’t among them. This seems to be a case of comparing a test aircraft still in trials that has a restricted flight envelope, against a mature dogfighter with no such restrictions. Despite the claims that the F-35 is inferior to a decades old aircraft, previous exercises tell a different story. Over the last few years there have been occasions where a flight of F-35s (has) engaged a flight of F-16s in simulated combat scenarios, the F-35s reportedly won each of those encounters because of its sensors and low visibility.” […]

  16. NVA MiGs did not down Phantoms by the hundred. They couldn’t even kill much less maneuverable F-105s by the “hundred”. The score — F-105s made 31 kills against MiG 17s, vs 18 losses to MiG 17s. Twenty four of those MiG 17s were shot down by F-105 gunfire in tight dogfights. The USAF only claimed 27 & 1/2 kills, but the Viet government admitted post war to an additional 3 MiG 17 losses to F-105s. The 1/2 kill was shared by an F-4, that finished off a mortally wounded MiG 17 previously hit by an F-105.

    Regarding the F-35 vs F-16 “dogfight”. The test was to specifically determine the degree of flight-law relaxation that is necessary to counter 4th gen fighters in gunfights. The outcome was not a surprise, considering that the F-35 test mule was constrained by the original set of flight laws (current production F-35s have a more relaxed flight-law set). The reason that the specific F-35 was chosen is that it was also the test mule in departure limit tests & it made sense to avoid multiple platform variables. That test mule had flown to 110deg AoA retaining 3-axis control.

    The F-35A prototype with software restrictions was not far off the F-16 bloc 40 & actually had an acceleration advantage in the fight that was negated by its disadvantage in sustained turn & sub-par transitions due to the software restrictions. The current production F-35A is already better than that prototype & will certainly see transition rates improve, plus a likely increase in its allowed AoA beyond the current 50 deg limit. Additionally, the helmet comment was pointless for combat but was part of the full information package from that test. Production F-35s have omnidirectional pilot vision & missile targeting.

    An F35 with its full combat suite

  17. A realy big problem would be, if the us replace all his fighters wasting billions and billions of dollars with the “súper advanced” F35 and finally this fighter is useless, how can your country would deal with that?

  18. sounds like we have a Russian spy that approved the development of this monster crap load of an aircraft so it would lose in combat so the Russians will take over. It doesn’t matter anyways we don’t have any money to improve the software now or make new planes. Our country is gone! =O

  19. really an truely any fighter can outperform the f-35 its airframe is not built for dogfight plus it only thrust vectors up an down that makes it alot harder for it to dogfight its role in air combat is recon nothing more

  20. Do we really have to keep recycling old news all the time.? It was a test aircraft operating within set limits not free to run. Surely people can’t keep needing to be told all the time? Boring.

  21. The completed F-35 Lightening can be challenged only by the F-22 Raptor which might loose in a contest or even actual combat. No other fighter domestic or foreign comes even close to the fully equipped and deployed F-35.

    The advantage of the F-22 is that it is larger with greater range and speed using super cruise for speeds of Mach 1.5 (about 1200 miles per hour) to intercept the enemy. The vectored thrust for extreme maneuverability is IRREVALENT (not important) for the F-35 since it can fire missiles anywhere even to the rear without maneuvering or using radar but by using distributive aperture lens (DAS) tech. That utilizes electronically-enhanced advanced cameras to see up, down, left, right, and to the read and of course forward.

    • Additionally and by the way … the F-35’s primary mission is ground/sea attack missions not specifically air-to-air combat. It can be electronically linked to “everything” of friendly forces in the air, ground, and sea. It can even request and take control of friendly missiles to use as the F-35 pilot wants in combat just like the F-22 will do.

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