Last night, I was chatting with friends who noted that the F-35B STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter had just completed its at-sea quals. The question arose, “What was the last jet that failed its quals?” As far as I know, the F-111B held that honor.
Interestingly, now news is coming out that the “C” model variant of the JSF, intended to operate from the Navy’s big deck carriers, seems to have a little problems. The tailhook isn’t… hooking.
The U.S. Navy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) known as the F-35C is at serious risk of never being able to land aboard an aircraft carrier. This also poses a risk to the U.K. aircraft carrier program which is supposed to use the F-35C at the end of the decade.
Eric L. Palmer, the author of that piece, has never been what you might call enthusiastic about the JSF program. We’re not as critical ourselves, but we sure aren’t full throated supporters of it either.
When the program began, the Navy wanted a twin engine, preferably twin seat, aircraft. As a result of “cost saving” measures, the DoD consolidated the replacement program for the F-16, the F/A-18A/C, and the AV-8B into one airframe, and then put the Air Force in charge. Two points. One, history shows that if you want to have a fighter operate both at sea and ashore, design it to operate at sea, first, then modify it to operate ashore. The Air Force doesn’t heed that lesson. Secondly, and even worse, the insistence on a STOVL variant drove the entire design of all three variants of the jet, and added untold complexity, weight and cost. As usual, trying to use one jet to fulfill three different roles has meant that program costs skyrocketed, and performance suffered.