The F-35 Lightning II has not been a popular aircraft. Not only is it the most expensive program in military history, as a close-air-support platform, there's genuine concern that it won't be as effective in supporting troops as the ancient A-10 Warthog that's currently serving. That might be okay if the plane were still an effective dogfighter, but a new report indicates that the plane it's supposed to replace – the F-16 – outshined the cutting-edge aircraft.
According to War is Boring, an unnamed test pilot put together a brutal five-page brief after testing the new F-35 against the F-16 in "traditional Basic Fighter Maneuvers in offensive, defensive, and neutral setups at altitudes ranging from 10,000 to 30,000 feet." In short, the two aircraft would be trying to kill each other. Things did not go well for the Lightning, though.
"The F-35 was at a distinct energy disadvantage," the pilot wrote in the unclassified brief, which according to War is Boring was labeled "for official use only." "Energy," in this case, is kind of like the fighter pilot's currency. Pilots deal in both kinetic and potential energy, with the former relating to a plane's altitude and the latter pertaining to airspeed. Essentially, the more energy a pilot has, the better they can maneuver in a dogfight. The F-35, though, does not manage its energy well.
According to the pilot, the new plane was sluggish, slow to pitch, and was generally cumbersome relative to the F-16. But complaints extended past the jet's maneuvering ability. The unnamed pilot even complained about the flight helmet, claiming it was "too large for the space inside the canopy to adequately see behind the aircraft."
Doubly damning for the F-35, though, is this – it spent the entire test at a significant advantage, flying totally unloaded while the two-seat F-16 had a pair of heavy, external drop tanks. Despite that, the Falcon was easily able to get the JSF in its gun sight while jinking out of the way when the tables were turned. The pilot even went as far as to call the F-35 "substantially inferior" to the old F-15E fighter-bomber.
In short, this unnamed test pilot had nothing nice to say about the new aircraft, and that's even more bad news for the embattled F-35 program.