The F-35 Lightning II is, essentially, a flying computer designed with cost in mind and with the objective of building a fighter jet that would accommodate the needs of the four branches of the military, as well as the Royal Air Force.
The aircraft was derived from the prototype X-35, which was the winning design of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The program that was initiated by the DOD with the objective to progress the technology of previous generation aircraft. The plane was built by Lockheed Martin, who coordinated with other partners Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and BAE Systems.
The aircraft is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather advanced stealth aircraft that can be deployed in any number of roles; such as, a combat aircraft for ground attacks, aerial reconnaissance and air defense missions.
The fact that it has only one engine demands that this engine must be functioning at all times and work is still being done to ensure this capability.
There are currently three F-35 variants: The F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL), the F-35B short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) and the F-35C carrier-based Catapult Assisted Take-Off Barrier Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) variant.
The specific responsibilities of these variants are as follows: The fighter will replace the A-10 and F-16 for the Air Force, will replace the F/A-18 for the Navy aboard aircraft carriers and will replace the F/A-18 and AV-8B Harrier as the STOVL variant for the Marine Corps. Learn more about the aircraft replacements by the F-35 here.
The F-35 is currently undergoing testing and final development by Lockheed Martin. It is part of the fifth generation category (incorporates numerous technological advances from the previous generation, but not many specifics have been given out).
It is interesting to note that Lt. Col. Christine Mau of 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group is the first female pilot to fly this aircraft. “It wasn’t until I was taxiing to the runway that it really struck me that I was on my own in the jet. I had a chase aircraft, but there was no weapons system officer or instructor pilot sitting behind me, and no one in my ear like in simulators.” said Mau. “It felt great to get airborne. The jet flies like a dream, and seeing the systems interact is impressive. Flying with the Helmet Mounted Display takes some adjusting, but it’s an easy adjustment. The training missions in the simulator prepare you very well, so you’re ready for that flight.”
The Helmet Mounted Display System that the Lt. Col. is referring to is one of the new technical advancements incorporated into the fifth generation aircraft design, and it is impressive. The $400,000 helmet is a computer driven visual device that contains 8,000,000 lines of code. It provides F-35 pilots with extraordinary situational awareness that is contained in its visor’s digital display that shows airspeed, heading, altitude, targeting information and warnings. This advancement has great tactical advantages, as it significantly increases the pilot’s responsiveness.
In addition, the visor contains the Distributed Aperture System (DAS), which streams real-time video from six infrared cameras mounted in different parts of the plane and also provides night vision capability.
So, without knowing all the specifics of this new generation aircraft, the fact that it has advanced stealth and a helmet reflective of what some see in sci-fi movies already makes the F-35 Lightning a formidable fighter against potential adversaries in any situation, day or night.
This video provides some general information on the F-35.
More about the F-35 and its variants can be found in this video below.