The overwhelming coverage of the F-35 Lightning II has not been positive. From reliability woes to the exorbitant price of the stealthy fighter jet to its limited abilities in close-air support and trouble managing an F-16 in air-to-air combat, the F-35 has received its share of criticism. But now that pilots are at the controls, praise is coming.
Earlier this week, US Navy pilots aboard the USS George Washington started singing the praises of the Lightning's advanced avionics, which make carrier operations far easier.
"The aircraft does a lot of stuff that, before, I would have to fight the aircraft," USMC Maj. Eric Northam told Defense One. "[In the F-35] if I want to capture the barrier altitude that I'm climbing to...I dial in the altitude; it will climb up and capture it. If I want to capture the heading I can just use the pedals to dial in a new heading. I can keep my hands on the controls where I need to and then redirect the aircraft as required."
The F-35 uses a Lockheed Martin system called Delta Flight Path to simplify the process. According to D1, beyond simplifying carrier takeoffs and landings, the system will one day let pilots "coordinate with each other, the ground, and air units to execute smarter attacks."
But for right now, Delta Flight Path is making life easier for pilots. And eventually, the software could cut down on training time.
"What has traditionally been required for initial qualifications...that can probably be reduced [in the F-35], because the task becomes mundane after a while," Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Kitts told Military.com. "You can make corrections so easily."
"I can take off, type in an altitude, type in a heading, and just let the jet go out to fly," Lt. Graham Cleveland, VFA-101's landing signal officer, told D1. "Teaching the very basics will be easier ... There's still a man in the box. But it is safer, more efficient, easier to train to."
Cleveland added that the F-35's tech could let the Navy cut ashore training from 16 to 18 field carrier landings to just four to six, and actual carrier qualifications from ten landings to just six. But Lt. Cleveland's boss, VFA-101 CO Capt. James Christie recommended caution.
"We're not going to move too quickly; we're going to ensure it's the right thing to do," Capt. Christie told Military.com. "But as soon as we have the empirical evidence that shows we can safely reduce those numbers, I'll be all for submitting that to leadership."