Some of its pilots claim that the F-35 Lightning II is so easy to fly that it feels "like magic." Reading their words, I thought they were talking about a video game instead of one of the most advanced war machines ever created.
Or maybe it feels like a video game precisely because it is one of the most advanced war machines ever created.
According to these pilots—summoned by Lockheed Martin for the Farnborough aviation festival—the key is the airplane's brain, as well as the way it displays information on its glass cockpit.
The on-board computer systems take care of most things, making the most difficult operations a matter of "pushing a button." One example: when the F-35B—the short take off and vertical-landing variant—is about to land vertically, the computer takes care of all the corrections to keep the plane stable. According to veteran British Harrier pilot Peter Wilson, the jet can slow from 200 knots to a hover all by itself. In the Harrier, however, you 'had to be an octopus to perform the same operation' all by yourself, according to Colonel Art Tomassetti, the US Marine Corps' chief F-35 trainer. Tomassetti is also an experienced Harrier pilot himself.
The glass cockpit seems to be another one of the F-35's strengths. Instead of having to keep an eye in a dozen analog instruments, any nugget can know the state of the plane at a glance, looking at the green, yellow and red digital indicators.
Of course, the three pilots were talking in a Lockheed Martin's event, but it's interesting to see their opinion. What is clear is that electronics and software are taking over everything, which makes me wonder about two things.
One: when are we going to have an entire fleet of pilot-less jets connected to a master control. We are really close to this already, so I would expect it within a decade.