RAF Wing Commander Jim Beck is one of the UK’s most experienced F-35 Lightning pilots, here he talks about the future of the jet aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.
It’s no secret that the F-35 has had severe cost and schedule issues. The F-35 programme has gone through serious teething problems, problems also experienced by the majority of complex aircraft flying today such as the F-15, Typhoon or any other modern combat jet.
The biggest issue for the project continues to be the fact it is the most expensive military weapons system in history owing to the sheer scope of the programme but that being said, aircraft costs are now coming down and will soon be similar to the cost of many aircraft it’s replacing.
Today the programme is maturing rapidly, right now much of the activity around the jet is dealing with software bugs and testing to validate the software, with most of the physical testing being to do with weapons integration and the gradual scaling up of capabilities that comes with each new software block.
Wing Commander Beck began by discussing the capabilities the aircraft will bring to UK forces:
“The F-35 is the best aircraft I’ve ever flown. It is the most advanced multi-role fighter jet out there and the aircraft most suited to the UK’s needs. With huge flexibility and cutting-edge innovation, this supersonic, stealth aircraft will bring about a generation change in the way we fight in the Combat Air arena for many decades to come.
I’ve flown over 2,000 hours with Tornados, and have completed 7 operational tours in an 18 year career flying fast jets. I set up the first UK F-35 Squadron in the US, flown entirely under UK sovereign jurisdiction, flying the F-35 for over 300 hours myself. Hands down, it is the most capable and advanced aircraft I’ve ever flown.
The F-35B is the world’s first supersonic, radar-evading stealth aircraft that comes with short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) capability. This gives it huge flexibility, enabling it to take off from land or the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, the first of which is currently on sea trials.”
“The aircraft is the epitome of cutting-edge military innovation. Take the helmet: It uses Augmented Reality technology to allow pilots to look through 360 degrees, through the floor of the cockpit for example, at the ground below them. The aircraft is brimming with state of the art sensors, which provides the pilot with a vast array of game-changing information, enhancing their situational awareness so they can act rapidly and effectively. In terms of stealth, the Low Observable technology means the F-35 is incredibly hard to detect, providing a massive tactical advantage over the enemy.
The F-35 will be deployed on a uniquely wide range of operations, from air-to-air, air-to-ground and electronic combat, through to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Traditionally managed by several specialist aircraft, this can all be done by a single F-35 squadron.
We currently have over 100 British pilots and aircrew training in the US on our 10 F-35s before coming to the UK next year. In 2018 we will begin initial flight trials for the F-35 jets from HMS Queen Elizabeth, building towards delivering a carrier strike capability for the UK from 2020.”
On the value to UK industry he said:
“It is great news for UK industry, which will provide approximately 15% by value of every Lightning aircraft to be built. We will benefit hugely from the programme, after winning a contract to be the major global maintenance hub for avionics and aircraft components.”
Wing Commander Beck concluded with:
“The Lightning aircraft will bring about a step change in our air warfare capability for years to come. Just ask the growing number of UK pilots who have flown the aircraft; they absolutely love it!
New aircraft often come under harsh scrutiny before entering service. Take the Typhoon fighter jet for instance. Before it came into service, the aircraft came under a lot of criticism from the media. But look at it now – we have 137 aircraft that have excelled in a variety of roles, from scrambling aircraft over British airspace, to reconnaissance and ground attack on a range of operations including the Falklands, the Baltics and Middle East.
Rest assured, the F-35 is the most advanced fighter jet out there and the best aircraft for the UK’s needs today and for decades to come.”
Follow the progress of the carrier programme here.