The Skydiving and Aviation Related Photo Thread! (OT)


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Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Jul 30, 2014 - 05:29pm PT
Whoa! That could have been expensive! Glad you didn't have to 'land out'
as we say in the sailplane world. I thought that was a new engine?

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Jul 30, 2014 - 06:44pm PT
Nope. It's the original engine with 1922 hours on it. The compressions and oil analyses are still great. I was flying with my instructor while working on my commercial certificate. I've completed all the cross country and PIC requirements, and we were simply working on various methods of navigation. Not. Fun! The A & Ps all think I've still got maybe 200-300 hours still usable time. The Lycoming O-540 is renowned for it's longevity beyond TBO.

Social climber
So Cal
Jul 31, 2014 - 05:43pm PT

Aug 1, 2014 - 07:52am PT
slick tracking with friends
Mt meeker and longs peak in the back on the right
Mt meeker and longs peak in the back on the right
Credit: snakefoot
Jon Beck

Trad climber
Aug 24, 2014 - 02:28pm PT
P.S.: The entire cowling and belly of the airplane was bathed in Aeroshell 15W-50 semisynthetic oil.

hahaha, that was a normal flight in my fathers Stearman, that old radial would dump a quart an hour, most of it on the belly.

Glad you didn't ruin an engine

On a lighter note, here is a note a child handed to the crew on a Quantas flight

Credit: Jon Beck
Jeremy Ross

Gym climber
Aug 24, 2014 - 05:43pm PT
Bump for a great thread.


Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Aug 25, 2014 - 07:53pm PT

F’d: How the U.S. and Its Allies Got Stuck with the World’s Worst New Warplane

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was meant to improve the U.S. air arsenal but has made it more vulnerable instead

From all the recent sounds of celebrating coming out of Washington, D.C., you might think the Pentagon’s biggest, priciest and most controversial warplane development had accelerated right past all its problems.

The price tag —currently an estimated $1 trillion to design, build and operate 2,400 copies—is steadily going down. Production of dozens of the planes a year for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps is getting easier. Daily flight tests increasingly are hitting all the right marks.

Or so proponents would have you believe.

“The program appears to have stabilized,” Michael Sullivan from the Government Accountability Office told Congress. “I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen,” chimed in Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, head of the program on the government side. When War is Boring asked Lockheed spokesman Laura Siebert about the F-35, she said she expected a “much more positive” article than usual owing to what she described as the program’s “significant progress.”

But the chorus of praise is wrong.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter — a do-it-all strike jet being designed by Lockheed Martin to evade enemy radars, bomb ground targets and shoot down rival fighters — is as troubled as ever. Any recent tidbits of apparent good news can’t alter a fundamental flaw in the plane’s design with roots going back decades.

Owing to heavy design compromises foisted on the plane mostly by the Marine Corps, the F-35 is an inferior combatant, seriously outclassed by even older Russian and Chinese jets that can fly faster and farther and maneuver better. In a fast-moving aerial battle, the JSF “is a dog … overweight and underpowered,” according to Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight in Washington, D.C.

And future enemy planes, designed strictly with air combat in mind, could prove even deadlier to the compromised JSF.

It doesn’t really matter how smoothly Lockheed and the government’s work on the new warplane proceeds. Even the best-manufactured JSF is a second-rate fighter where it actually matters — in the air, in life-or-death combat against a determined foe. And that could mean a death sentence for American pilots required to fly the vulnerable F-35.

The U.S. Air Force’s F-35 fighter jet launched its first in-flight missile

The F-35's inferiority became glaringly obvious five years ago in a computer simulation run by John Stillion and Harold Scott Perdue, two analysts at RAND, a think tank in Santa Monica, California. Founded in 1948, RAND maintains close ties to the Air Force. The air arm provides classified data, and in return RAND games out possible war scenarios for government planners.

In Stillion and Perdue’s August 2008 war simulation, a massive Chinese air and naval force bore down on Beijing’s longtime rival Taiwan amid rising tensions in the western Pacific. A sudden Chinese missile barrage wiped out the tiny, outdated Taiwanese air force, leaving American jet fighters based in Japan and Guam to do battle with Beijing’s own planes and, hopefully, forestall a bloody invasion.

In the scenario, 72 Chinese jets patrolled the Taiwan Strait. Just 26 American warplanes — the survivors of a second missile barrage targeting their airfields — were able to intercept them, including 10 twin-engine F-22 stealth fighters that quickly fired off all their missiles.

That left 16 of the smaller, single-engine F-35s to do battle with the Chinese. As they began exchanging fire with the enemy jets within the mathematical models of the mock conflict, the results were shocking.

America’s newest stealth warplane and the planned mainstay of the future Air Force and the air arms of the Navy and Marine Corps, was no match for Chinese warplanes. Despite their vaunted ability to evade detection by radar, the JSFs were blown out of the sky. “The F-35 is double-inferior,” Stillion and Perdue moaned in their written summary of the war game, later leaked to the press.

‘Can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run’

The analysts railed against the new plane, which to be fair played only a small role in the overall simulation. “Inferior acceleration, inferior climb [rate], inferior sustained turn capability,” they wrote. “Also has lower top speed. Can’t turn, can’t climb, can’t run.” Once missiles and guns had been fired and avoiding detection was no longer an option — in all but the first few seconds of combat, in other words — the F-35 was unable to keep pace with rival planes.

And partly as a result, the U.S. lost the simulated war. Hundreds of computer-code American air crew perished. Taiwan fell to the 1s and 0s representing Chinese troops in Stillion and Perdue’s virtual world. Nearly a century of American air superiority ended among the wreckage of simulated warplanes, scattered across the Pacific.

In a September 2008 statement Lockheed shot back against the war game’s results, insisting the F-35 was capable of “effectively meeting” the “aggressive operational challenges” presented in the Taiwan scenario. RAND backed away from the report, claiming it was never about jet-to-jet comparisons, and Stillion and Perdue soon left the think tank. Stillion is now at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments think tank in Washington, D.C. Perdue currently works for Northrop Grumman.

Steve O’Bryan, a Lockheed vice president and former fighter pilot, targeted the war game analysis and its authors. “It was policy people who did that report, [people] with no airplane experience,” O’Bryan said, adding that many critics of the F-35 “are people who are self-proclaimed experts who live in their mom’s basement and wear slippers to work.”

But Stillion and Perdue are both veteran aviators. Stillion flew in RF-4 recon planes and Perdue in F-15s during the Gulf War. “I don’t live in my mom’s basement,” Perdue said.

Even if its results were disputable, the 2008 war game should have been a wake-up call. Since the mid-1990s the Pentagon has utterly depended on the F-35 to replenish its diminishing arsenal of warplanes built mostly in the 1970s and 1980s. If there’s even a small chance the new plane can’t fight, the Pentagon should be very, very worried.

Indeed, the military should have been concerned more than 40 years ago.

“What you have to understand is that problems with the F-35 are the result of pathological decision-making patterns that go back at least to the 1960s,” explained Chuck Spinney, a retired Defense Department analyst and whistleblower whom one senator called the “conscience of the Pentagon.”

Among the pathologies inherent in the F-35's design, by far the most damaging is the result of a peculiar institutional obsession by one of the new plane’s three main customers. Early on, the Marine Corps contrived to equip the JSF as a “jump jet,” able to take off and land vertically like a helicopter — a gimmick that the Marines have long insisted would make its fighters more flexible, but which has rarely worked in combat.

The JSF comes in three variants — one each for the Air Force, Navy and Marines — all sharing a mostly common fuselage, engine, radar and weapons. The wings and vertical-takeoff gear vary between models.
F-16 Fighting Falcon

Altogether the three F-35 variants are meant to replace around a dozen older plane types from half a dozen manufacturers, ranging from the Air Force’s maneuverable, supersonic F-16 to the slow-flying, heavily armored A-10 and, most consequentially, the Marines’ AV-8B Harrier, an early-generation jump jet whose unique flight characteristics do not blend well with those of other plane types.

Engineering compromises forced on the F-35 by this unprecedented need for versatility have taken their toll on the new jet’s performance. Largely because of the wide vertical-takeoff fan the Marines demanded, the JSF is wide, heavy and has high drag, and is neither as quick as an F-16 nor as toughly constructed as an A-10. The jack-of-all-trades JSF has become the master of none.

And since the F-35 was purposely set up as a monopoly, replacing almost every other warplane in the Pentagon’s inventory, there are fewer and fewer true alternatives. In winning the 2001 competition to build the multipurpose JSF, Lockheed set a course to eventually becoming America’s sole active builder of new-generation jet fighters, leaving competitors such as Boeing pushing older warplane designs.

Which means that arguably the worst new jet fighter in the world, which one Australian military analyst-turned-politician claimed would be “clubbed like baby seals” in combat, could soon also be America’s only new jet fighter.

Where once mighty American warplanes soared over all others, giving Washington a distinct strategic advantage against any foe, in coming decades the U.S. air arsenal will likely be totally outclassed on a plane-by-plane basis by any country possessing the latest Russian and Chinese models — one of which, ironically, appears to be an improved copy of the JSF … minus all its worst design elements.

If the unthinkable happens and sometime in the next 40 years a real war — as opposed to a simulation — breaks out over Taiwan or some other hot spot, a lot of U.S. jets could get shot down and a lot of American pilots killed. Battles could be lost. Wars could be forfeit.

A U.S. plane burns following a Japanese attack on Guadalcanal in 1942.

World war origins

The oldest of the roughly 50 F-35 prototypes currently in existence is barely seven years old, having flown for the first time in December 2006. But the new plane’s design origins stretch back much farther, to a time before China was a rising world power — and even before jet engines. In many ways, America’s new, universal jet was born in the confusion, chaos and bloodshed of World War II’s jungle battlefields.

In August 1942 a force of U.S. Marines stormed ashore on Guadalcanal, part of the Solomons island chain in the South Pacific. Less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. and its allies were still fighting a defensive action against Japanese forces. The Guadalcanal landing was meant to blunt Tokyo’s advance.

But the lightly-equipped Marines ended up surrounded and all but abandoned after Japanese ships wiped out a portion of the Allied fleet. The Navy withdrew its precious aircraft carriers, and for months the Japanese planes, opposed by only a handful of Marine fighters flying from a crude beachhead airstrip, pounded the hapless Americans.

Robert Leckie, a Marine rifleman on Guadalcanal, described one of his squadmates breaking under the strain. The rattled Marine grabbed a light machine gun — a totally ineffective weapon against airplanes — and charged against a strafing Japanese Zero fighter. “He could not bear huddling in the pit while the Jap [sic] made sport of us,” Leckie wrote in his memoir Helmet for my Pillow.

Luckily, the Marine survived his nearly suicidal confrontation with the Zero. But as an organization, the Marine Corps was forever changed by its exposure on Guadalcanal. “The lesson learned was that the U.S. Marine Corps needed to be able to bring its air power with it over the beach because the large-deck Navy aircraft carriers might not always be there,” said Ben Kristy, an official Marine historian.

In the 1950s and ‘60s the Corps bought hundreds of helicopters, a new invention at the time. But what it really wanted was a fighter plane that could launch from the same amphibious assault ships that hauled Marine ground troops. These big assault ships had flat helicopter flight deck areas, but with neither the catapults nor the runway length to support the big, high-performance planes favored by the Navy.

The Marines wanted a “jump jet” capable of taking off from these helicopter decks with a short rolling takeoff and returning to land vertically, lighter because of all the fuel it had burned.

Besides launching from amphibious ships, the new planes were touted to fly in support of ground troops from so-called “lilypads” —100 foot concrete patches supposedly quickly installed near the front lines.

The concept became known to engineers as Vertical/Short Takeoff and Landing (V/STOL) or Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL). It was subject to extensive, crash-plagued experimentation throughout the early years of the jet age — every STOVL or V/STOL prototype from 1946 to 1966 crashed. “USMC interest in a working V/STOL attack aircraft outstripped the state of aeronautical technology,” Kristy pointed out.

Then in the late ‘60s a British company invented a new jet with complex, rotating engine nozzles that could point downward to provide vertical lift, allowing it to launch from short airstrips or small ships. The Marines fell blindly in love with this temperamental new plane, nicknamed Harrier after a low-flying hawk, and schemed to acquire it for their own air wings.

The Navy was the biggest obstacle. The sailing branch controls the Marines’ weapons funding and was not keen to invest in a single-use airplane that only the Corps wanted. At the time the Navy was working with the Air Force on the F-111, an early attempt at a one-size-fits-all jet that the Pentagon believed would replace nearly all older planes with a single, multipurpose model.

Thanks to what Kristy described as “very, very shrewd political maneuvering,” a small group of Marine officers alternately convinced and tricked Congress, the Navy and the U.S. aerospace industry into taking a chance on the Harrier. The Corps ended up buying more than 400 of the compact planes through the 1990s.

But the Harrier, so appealing in theory, has been a disaster in practice. Fundamentally, the problem is one of lift. A plane taking off vertically gets no lift from the wings. All the flight forces must come from the downward engine blast. Forcing the motor to do all the work results in three design drawbacks: a big, hot engine with almost no safety margin; an unsafe airframe that must be thinly built with tiny wings in order to keep the plane’s weight less than the down-thrust of the engine; and minimal fuel and weapons load, also to save weight.

As a result, in vertical mode the Harrier carries far fewer bombs than conventional fighters and also lacks their flying range. And the concentrated downward blast of the Harrier’s vertical engine nozzles melts asphalt and kicks up engine-destroying dirt, making it impossible to operate from roads or even manicured lawns.

In the 1991 Gulf War, the front-line concrete lily pads never showed up, so the jump jet had to fly from distant full-size bases or assault ships. With their very limited fuel, they were lucky to be able to put in five or 10 minutes supporting Marines on the ground — and they proved tremendously vulnerable to machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles.

Even when it isn’t launching and landing vertically or being shot at, the Harrier is delicate and hard to fly owing to the complex vertical-flight controls and the minimal lift and maneuverability of the tiny wings. By the early 2000s a full third of all Harriers had been destroyed in crashes, killing 45 Marines.

“The Harrier was based on a complete lie,” said Pierre Sprey, an experienced fighter engineer whose design credits include the nimble F-16 and the tank-killing A-10. “The Marines simply concocted it because they wanted their own unique airplane and wanted to convert amphibious ships into their own private carriers.”

And the Corps stuck with the V/STOL concept for the same pathological reasons. With the crash-prone Harriers dwindling in number and showing their age, in the early ‘80s the Marines started working with the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s high-tech dreamers on R&D for a new jump jet. One that had to be supersonic and had to evade radar detection in addition to launching vertically — in essence, tripling down on the Harrier’s false promise by piling on additional requirements that were all “grossly incompatible,” according to Sprey.

After a decade funding Lockheed design and wind tunnel work, mostly through DARPA’s unauditable “black” money, the dreamers concluded that the best way to push a V/STOL jet to supersonic speed was to replace the rotating engine nozzles with a dual system combining a single, rearward-thrusting engine plus a second engine, called a lift fan, installed horizontally in the mid-fuselage.

New but unproven concept in hand, in the early 1990s the Marines emerged into the light to urge Congress to start a mega-procurement program for their supersonic, stealthy jump jet.
Jump jet 2.0

In 1993 and 1994, the Navy and Air Force also wanted new jet fighter designs — ones with the same radar-evading characteristics of the new F-117 stealth fighter and B-2 stealth bomber. As chance would have it, all three jet-operating military branches approached Congress at roughly the same time asking for tens of billions of dollars to develop and buy new planes.

“Congress said we couldn’t afford that,” said Lt. Gen. Harold Blot, a Harrier pilot who headed Marine aviation in the mid-’90s. Lawmakers asked Blot and other aviation chiefs whether the three services could combine their new fighters into one universal model.
A V/STOL F-35B tests its vertical flight capability in 2011. Lockheed Martin photo

Such jets had a spotty past: some worked; most didn’t. The F-111, the universal fighter from the 1960s, had grown too complicated, heavy and expensive as each branch piled on equipment; only the Air Force ended up buying it — and only a few hundred of the 1,500 copies originally planned.

The less complex F-4, however, began as a Navy fighter and was eventually adopted by the Air Force and Marines as well, serving through Vietnam and the Cold War. Congress was hoping to duplicate the F-4's relative success in the 21st century, equipping all the military branches with new, radar-evading jets and saving money in the process.

But the concept for the new universal plane, known early on as the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter, included a fatal flaw. Where the F-4 had been a conventional plane taking off and landing from runways, CALF (soon renamed Joint Advanced Strike Technology) would be a STOVL plane — because the Marines insisted. “We’re on a 40-year path to get an airplane that’s more responsive,” Blot explained. And to the Corps, that meant a jump jet.

Despite the history of failures, Congress bought into the idea of a universal stealth fighter that was also STOVL. But legislators’ embrace of the risky concept did not take place in a vacuum. It was, in part, the outcome of a focused influence campaign by the Lockheed, the company most likely to win the competition to build the new plane.

Lockheed had made its name building specialized interceptors, spy planes and bombers. The F-117, the world’s first operational stealth warplane, was a Lockheed product. An aggressive campaign of corporate acquisitions also brought Sprey’s bestselling F-16 into the Lockheed fold. Those programs positioned Lockheed to make a huge grab for greater market share.

Meanwhile, the company’s secret tests for the fringe-science DARPA, meant to prove that a STOVL jet could also fly faster than the speed of sound, provided the basis for the company’s pitch for the universal jet fighter.

Granted, the tests had produced plenty of theories but no working hardware. “The technologies available were not yet advanced enough,” was the government’s official conclusion. But Lockheed spun the experiments as stepping stones to a supersonic jump jet that could also be adapted to suit the Air Force and Navy’s needs.

With just one swappable component — the downward-blasting second engine — a single airplane design could do the jobs of the Marines’ vertical-launching Harrier and of the faster, farther-flying conventional planes of the Navy and Air Force.

Convinced by Lockheed and DARPA that the universal STOVL jet concept could work, in 1996 Congress directed the Pentagon to organize a contest to build the new plane. General Dynamics, Boeing and Lockheed drew up blueprints but Lockheed, having worked with DARPA since the ‘80s, clearly had the advantage. “It wasn’t truly competitive,” Sprey said of the new fighter contest. “The other companies were way behind the curve.”

General Dynamics, whose main airplane-making division had been bought by Lockheed, dropped out of the competition. Boeing cobbled together an ungainly supersonic prototype called the X-32 whose gaping engine inlet resembled a grouper in mid-swallow. Rushed, amateurish and overweight, the X-32 was an ungainly thing.

But it flew — barely — starting in September 2000. For the critical vertical-takeoff test the following June, Boeing engineers had to strip off non-critical parts to get the weight down — a glaring flaw the company took pains to keep from the press, but couldn’t hide from government referees.

Lockheed’s X-35 was less of a disaster. Sleeker and more efficient than the Boeing plane thanks to Lockheed’s two-decade head start, the faster-than-sound X-35 needed no help taking off vertically for the first time in June 2001. And on the afternoon of Oct. 26, Pete Aldridge, the military’s top weapons buyer, stepped up to a podium in the Pentagon briefing room and announced that Lockheed had won the $19-billion contract to begin developing what was now known as the Joint Strike Fighter.

As Aldridge spoke, 2,600 miles away at a top-secret facility in Palmdale, California, 200 Lockheed engineers whooped and cheered. They had every reason to celebrate. The Pentagon wanted thousands of copies of the JSF to start entering Marine, Navy and Air Force service in 2010, replacing nearly every other jet fighter in the military arsenal — in other words, a monopoly. Once production was factored in, the program was expected to cost at least $200 billion.

Even adjusted for two decades of inflation, that estimate would turn out to be hopelessly, outrageously, low. Among other problems, the fundamental flaws of the STOVL concept inexorably crept into the JSF’s 20-year development, adding delays, complexity and cost.
Fatal flaw

Where the Harrier has its rotating engine nozzles for downward thrust, the F-35 has a new kind of vertical-lift system combining a hinged main engine nozzle at the back of the plane that points directly backward until the pilot shifts into hover mode, at which point the nozzle swivels 90 degrees to point down.
Marine Corps Harriers practice operations from a Navy ship in March. Navy photo

Simultaneously, a complicated system of shafts, gears and doors activates to reveal the horizontal lift fan installed in the center of the aircraft just behind the cockpit. Together the fan and nozzle produce more than 40,000 pounds of thrust, enough to lift the nearly 20-ton aircraft straight up off the ground like a gargantuan dragonfly.

The lift fan, devised by Lockheed and DARPA in the early 1980s, was the only workable solution that anyone had come up with to give a plane vertical capability plus supersonic speed and radar-evading stealth, the last of which demands an airplane with a smooth outline and nothing hanging or protruding from it.

But this mix of characteristics came at a price to all three F-35 models, even the two that don’t need to take off vertically. “The STOVL requirements have dictated most if not all of the cardinal design elements for all three aircraft,” said Peter Goon, an analyst with the Air Power Australia think tank.

The addition of a lift fan to the baseline F-35 design started a cascade of problems that made it heavier, slower, more complex, more expensive and more vulnerable to enemy attack — problems that were evident in the 2008 war game set over Taiwan.

Of course Lockheed exec O’Bryan rejected that assessment, claiming the JSF’s stealth, sensors and aerodynamics make it superior to other planes. “It’s not rocket science,” he insisted.

But in many ways the JSF did become rocket science as it grew more complex. The original X-35 from 2001 had the advantage of being strictly a test plane with no need to carry weapons. But the frontline F-35 needs weapons. And to maintain the smooth shape that’s best for avoiding detection by radar, the weapons need to be carried inside internal bomb bays. Bomb bays would normally go along an airplane’s centerline, but the F-35's center is reserved for the 50-inch-diameter lift fan. Hence Sprey’s claim that STOVL and stealth are incompatible.

To keep down costs all three JSF variants — the Air Force’s basic F-35A, the Marines’ vertical-takeoff F-35B and the Navy F-35C with a bigger wing for at-sea carrier landings — share essentially the same fuselage. And to fit both the F-35B’s lift fan and the bomb bays present in all three models, the “cross-sectional area” of the fuselage has to be “quite a bit bigger than the airplanes we’re replacing,” conceded Lockheed exec Tom Burbage, who retired this year as head of the company’s F-35 efforts.

The extra width violates an important aerospace design principle called the “area rule,” which encourages narrow, cylindrical fuselages for best aerodynamic results. The absence of area rule on the F-35 — again, a knock-on effect of the Marines’ demand for a lift fan — increases drag and consequently decreases acceleration, fuel efficiency and flying range. Thus critics’ assertion that supersonic speed can’t be combined with STOVL and stealth, the latter of which are already incompatible with each other.

“We’re dealing with the laws of physics,” Burbage said in his company’s defense when word got out about the JSF’s performance downgrades.

But the hits kept coming, chipping away at the F-35's ability to fight. The addition of the lift fan forces the new plane to have just one rearward engine instead of two carried by many other fighters. (Two engines is safer.) The bulky lift fan, fitted into the fuselage just behind the pilot, blocks the rear view from the cockpit — a shortcoming that one F-35 test pilot said would get the new plane “gunned every time.” That is, shot down in any aerial dogfight by enemy fighters you can’t see behind you.

O’Bryan said the JSF’s sensors, including fuselage-mounted video cameras that scan 360 degrees around the plane, more than compensate for the limited rearward view. Critics countered that the video resolution is far worse than the naked eye and completely inadequate for picking up the distant, tiny, minimal contrast dots in the sky that represent deadly fighter threats ready to kill you.

But there are plenty of other problems with the F-35 — some related the airplane’s layout, some stemming from inexperienced subcontractors and still others resulting from poor oversight by a succession of short-tenure government managers whose major contributions were to grow the bureaucracy involved in the F-35's development.

Lockheed’s F-117 stealth fighter was developed in a breakneck 30 months by a close-knit team of 50 engineers led by an experienced fighter designer named Alan Brown and overseen by seven government employees. Brown said he exercised strict control over the design effort, nixing any proposed feature of the plane that might add cost or delay or detract from its main mission.

The F-35, by contrast, is being designed by some 6,000 engineers led by a rotating contingent of short-tenure managers, with no fewer than 2,000 government workers providing oversight. The sprawling JSF staff, partially a product of the design’s complexity, has also added to that complexity like a bureaucratic feedback loop, as every engineer or manager scrambles to add his or her specialty widget, subsystem or specification to the plane’s already complicated blueprints … and inexperienced leaders allow it.

“The F-35 — that whole thing has gotten away from us as a country,” lamented Brown, now retired.

Many of the JSF’s problems converged in 2004, when Lockheed was forced to admit that the Marines’ F-35B variant was greatly overweight, owing in part to the addition of the lift fan. Ironically, the fan and other vertical-launch gear threatened to make the new plane too heavy to take off vertically.

“The short takeoff/vertical landing variant would need to lose as much as 3,000 pounds to meet performance requirements,” Lockheed manager Robert Elrod revealed in an annual report. Panicked, Lockheed poured more people, time and money (billed to the government) into a redesign effort that eventually shaved off much of the extra weight — basically by removing safety gear and making fuselage parts thinner and less tough.

O’Bryan said the weight reduction ultimately benefited all three F-35 variants. But the redesigned JSF, while somewhat lighter and more maneuverable, is also less durable and less safe to fly. In particular, the elimination of 11 pounds’ worth of valves and fuses made the JSF 25-percent more likely to destroyed when struck by enemy fire , according to Pentagon analysis.

Problems multiplied. Originally meant to cost around $200 billion to develop and buy nearly 2,900 planes expected to make their combat debut as early as 2010, the F-35's price steadily rose and its entry into service repeatedly slipped to the right. Today the cost to develop and manufacture 2,500 of the new planes — a 400-jet reduction — has ballooned to nearly $400 billion, plus another trillion dollars to maintain over five decades of use.

To help pay for the overruns, between 2007 and 2012 the Pentagon decommissioned nearly 500 existing A-10s, F-15s, F-16s and F/A-18s — 15 percent of the jet fighter fleet — before any F-35s were ready to replace them. The first, bare-bones F-35s with half-complete software and only a few compatible weapons aren’t scheduled to make their combat debut until late 2015, the same year that Boeing is slated to stop making the 1990s-vintage F/A-18E/F, the only other in-production jet fighter being acquired by the Pentagon. (F-15s and F-16s are still being manufactured for foreign customers by Boeing and Lockheed, respectively.)

At the moment the first operational F-35 finally flies its first real-world sortie two years from now, it may truly represent an aerospace monopoly — that is, unless additional orders from the U.S. or abroad extend the F-15, F-16 or F/A-18 assembly lines. The JSF could be openly acknowledged as the worst fighter in the world and, in the worst case, still be the only new fighter available for purchase by the U.S. military.

Instead of revitalizing the Pentagon’s air arsenal as intended, the JSF is eating it — and putting future war strategy at risk. In 2012 an embarrassed Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s chief weapons buyer, called the F-35 “acquisitions malpractice.”

But Kendall was referring only to the new plane’s delays and cost increases. He didn’t mention the more deadly flaw that had been revealed in Stillion and Perdue’s 2008 air-war simulation: that regardless of when and at what price the F-35 enters service, owing to its vertical-takeoff equipment the new fighter is the aerodynamic equivalent of a lobbed brick, totally outclassed by the latest Russian- and Chinese-made jets.

To add insult to strategic injury, one of the most modern Chinese prototype warplanes might actually be an illicit near-copy of the F-35 — albeit a more intelligent copy that wisely omits the most compromising aspects of the U.S. plane. It’s possible that in some future war, America’s JSFs could be shot down by faster, deadlier, Chinese-made JSF clones.
The F-35 that could have been

At least twice since 2007 Chinese hackers have stolen data on the F-35 from the developers’ poorly-guarded computer servers, potentially including detailed design specifications. Some of the Internet thieves “appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel claimed.
The Chinese J-31 appears to be based on the F-35. Via Chinese Internet

The September 2012 debut of China’s latest jet fighter prototype, the J-31, seemed to confirm Hagel’s accusation. The new Chinese plane, built by the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation, bears an uncanny external resemblance to the F-35: same twin tail fins, same chiseled nose, same wing shape. “It certainly looks like the Chinese got their hands on some [F-35] airframe data,” said Richard Aboulafia, a vice president at the Teal Group, an arms industry consultancy in Virginia.

But the J-31 lacks many of the features that were included in the F-35 “mainly or entirely because of STOVL,” according to Aviation Week writer and fighter expert Bill Sweetman.

Namely, the J-31 does not have a lift fan or even a space for a lift fan. The omission apparently allowed Chinese engineers to optimize the new plane for speed, acceleration, maneuverability and flying range — and to add good pilot visibility and a second rearward engine — instead of having to build the plane around a pretty much useless vertical-takeoff capability that slows it down, limits it to one motor and blocks the pilot’s view.

It could be that China doesn’t know how to build a working lift fan and that’s why they left it off, Aboulafia said. But for a country that has unveiled two different radar-evading stealth warplane prototypes in just the last two years, that seems unlikely. It’s more plausible that China could build a lift fan-equipped plane and has chosen not to.

The F-35 was compromised by, well, compromise. A warplane can be maneuverable like the F-16, tough like the A-10, stealthy like the F-117 or a STOVL model like the Harrier. A plane might even combine some of these qualities, as in the case of Lockheed’s nimble, radar-evading F-22. But it’s unrealistic to expect a single jet design to do everything with equal aplomb. Most of all, it’s foolish to believe a jet can launch and land vertically — a seriously taxing aerodynamic feat — and also do anything else well.

Jet design like any engineering practice requires disciplined choices. The JSF is the embodiment of ambivalence — a reflection of the government and Lockheed’s inability to say that some things could not or should not be done. “It’s not clear with the F-35 that we had a strong sense of what the top priority was — trying to satisfy the Marines, the Navy or the Air Force,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward, an expert in weapons acquisition who has been critical of complex, expensive development efforts.

By contrast, the Chinese J-31 does not appear compromised at all. Surrounded by rivals with powerful air forces — namely India, Russia, Japan and U.S. Pacific Command — and with no grudge-holding Marine Corps to hijack fighter design, it would make sense that China prioritized the air-combat prowess of its new jet over any historical score-settling.

That apparently apolitical approach to (admittedly illicit) warplane design appears to have paid dividends for the Shenyang-made jet. “With no lift fan bay to worry about, the designers have been able to install long weapon bays on the centerline,” Sweetman wrote. The centerline bay helps keep the J-31 skinny and therefore likely fast and maneuverable — in any event, faster and more maneuverable than the F-35, which in a decade’s time could be pretty much the only new U.S. jet the Chinese air force might face in battle.

If Stillion and Perdue’s simulation ever comes true and the U.S. goes to war with China in the air, F-35s dragged down by their lift fans could be knocked out of the sky by Chinese-made F-35 clones that are faster and more maneuverable, because they never had lift fans.

Sprey, the fighter engineer, said he expects the Pentagon to eventually come to terms with the unpleasant truth, that its new universal jet fighter with the foolhardy vertical-takeoff capability could spell the end of an epochal half-century in which America truly dominated the world’s skies. “My prediction is the F-35 will be such an embarrassment it will be cancelled before 500 are built,” he said.

Straus Military Reform Project Director Wheeler advocated replacing the F-35 with upgraded A-10s and F-16s pulled from desert storage plus new Navy F-18s fresh off the Boeing production line. These moves would “reverse the continuing decay in our air forces,” Wheeler claimed.

Ward said any future warplane should have clear and narrow requirements, as opposed to the F-35's broad, incompatible guidelines. Development timelines should be fast, budgets should be inexpensive, the overall concept should be simple and hardware should be as tiny as possible, Ward recommended. “What you don’t do is hold up complexity as a desirable attribute,” he said.

Sprey warned it could take years of expensive experimentation and a steep learning curve for American aerospace engineers to relearn the principles of sound fighter design that have been lost during the F-35's emerging monopoly — and that the only way to get there is to fund a series of inexpensive head-to-head competitions based on head-to-head mock dogfights between rival prototypes.

But that investment of time, talent and cost would be better than continuing with an over-budget, past-due warplane that can’t turn, can’t climb and can’t run because it’s hauling around a lift fan that makes Marines feel better about World War II but isn’t actually practical in the present day.

Replacing America’s useless, universal fighter would be a headache, according to Wheeler, but keeping it would be far worse. The F-35, he wrote, “will needlessly spill the blood of far too many of our pilots.”

Thanks to Angus Batey for assistance with this article.

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Aug 25, 2014 - 08:03pm PT
Russia's new air force is a mystery
Why is Moscow buying three very similar jet fighters?
By Thomas Newdick, War is Boring | 9:34am ET

Russia's fleet is getting some new — and much improved — company. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)

The Russian air force has just introduced three new jet fighters. Not the much-publicized Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter — which isn't ready yet — but three slightly different versions of the classic Su-27, all originating from the same Sukhoi design bureau but built by two separate manufacturers.

Yes, that's a bit odd — and potentially wasteful. The U.S. Air Force, for one, is buying just a single new fighter type, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The American air arm wants as many as 1,763 copies of the F-35A to replace most of its existing fighters and, in theory, maximize efficiency.

By contrast, Russia is acquiring just a few dozen each of the Su-30M2, Su-30SM, and Su-35S — each a different upgrade of the 1970s-vintage Sukhoi Su-27, known to NATO as the "Flanker." Moscow hasn't officially explained its jet fighter strategy, but it appears the purchases are meant to keep two factories in business amid a slump in warplane exports.

In any event, Russia is getting an interesting bunch of highly-capable new jet fighters to begin revamping the country's geriatric air force, composed mostly of planes built in the 1980s. As development of the stealthy T-50 dominates headlines, the introduction of these three new fighters has passed relatively unnoticed.

The Su-30M2 was the first to join the front-line ranks of the Russian air force — the first in-service photos appearing in December 2011, indicating deployment with the 6972nd Air Base at Krymsk in the southern region of Krasnodar.

The first three examples of the Su-30SM arrived at the 6982nd Air Base at Domna in November 2013. The Siberian base had as many as 10 Su-30SM fighters by the end of that year. A further 10 aircraft should arrive this year, equipping a full aviation regiment.

Meanwhile, this February the first operational Su-35S fighters entered service with the 23rd Fighter Aviation Regiment at the 6883rd Air Base at Dzemgi, in the Khabarovsk Territory in Russia's Far East.


First of the new trio to enter operational service, the Su-30M2 is also the least sophisticated. It's a derivative of the two-seat, multi-role Su-30MKK developed for China by the Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association, or KnAAPO, based in the Russian Far East.

The Su-30MKK is best understood as an upgrade of the existing two-seat Su-30 interceptor, albeit less sophisticated than the rival Su-30MK made by Irkut. It has provision for in-flight refueling and all-Russian avionics that bestow a multi-role capability, but it lacks the canard foreplanes and thrust-vectoring control engines of the Irkut Su-30MK.

After winning more Chinese orders — this time for the improved Su-30MK2 with anti-shipping capability — KnAAPO subsequently sold derivatives of the Su-30MK2 to Vietnam, Indonesia, Venezuela, and Uganda. A key recognition feature of the export Su-30MKK/MK2 and the Su-30M2 for home use are the flat-topped twin tailfins.

The Kremlin placed its initial order for the Su-30M2 in the summer of 2009. These aircraft share much in common with the Su-27SM3, a KnAAPO-built single-seat fighter with improved avionics, but otherwise having more in common with the first-generation Su-27.

The Defense Ministry ordered four Su-30M2s along with 12 Su-27SM3s, and we may presume that the two-seaters are meant to support their single-seat brethren in the combat training and, perhaps, all-weather strike roles.

Orders for the Su-30M2 apparently stand at 20 aircraft, although as of December 2013, only the first four jets have appeared in public.


Very similar to the Su-30M2 in appearance, the Su-30SM is the product of a different and rival production plant — the Irkut Corporation, based at Irkutsk in Siberia and part of the United Aircraft Corporation that consolidates all of Russia's private and state-owned plane-makers.

The Su-30SM can best be seen as the Russian version of the Su-30MK, Irkut's runaway success on the export market that kicked off with sales to India, followed by orders from Malaysia and Algeria.

Compared to the Su-30MKK from KnAAPO, the Su-30MK was always a more capable proposition, incorporating not only a more advanced aerodynamic layout, but also the option of Western avionics. Export customers could take their pick from Russian, Ukrainian, French, Indian, and Israeli components.

Hallmarks of the Su-30MK that also appear in the Russian air force's Su-30SM include two seats, canard foreplanes and thrust-vectoring engines, both allied with a sophisticated fly-by-wire flight control system. Unlike the KnAAPO jets, the Irkut-built Su-30MK and Su-30SM feature distinctive cropped tail fins.

Russia's Defense Ministry placed a surprise order for the Su-30SM in March 2012. And in December that year the ministry doubled the initial request for 30 aircraft. Reports from the Russian media suggest that all 60 of these jets should be delivered by the end of 2015, although as of December 2013 only 16 aircraft had been handed over.

This February press reports indicted that the Defense Ministry plans to sign additional contracts worth $2 billion for the delivery of 50 more Su-30SMs. Interestingly, some, if not all, of these new fighters could end up in Russian navy service, with the first examples arriving before the end of 2015.

Compared to the export Su-30MKI, the "Russianized" Su-30SM replaces the Indian and Israeli avionics with Russian equivalents. Strangely however, most of the original French avionics — including the head-up display and navigation system — remain.

While the Su-30M2 uses the N001V radar — an evolution of the basic set in the original Su-27 — the Su-30SM has the far superior N011M Bars-R with passive electronically scanned array. One unique change compared to the export-optimized Su-30MK relates to the Su-30SM's ejection seats. These are stronger in order to cope with the heavier weight of Russian pilots.

Although we have yet to see the new-generation Sukhois carrying any truly advanced air-to-air weaponry in air force service, the Su-30SM should be able to launch the new RVV-SD beyond-visual-range missile and the short-range RVV-MD.


The Su-35S differs from the Su-30 family in being a single-seater. While its conceptual lineage traces back to Soviet efforts to improve the Su-27, today's Su-35 began development in the early 2000s.

In a bid to improve performance and combat capability, the KnAAPO-built Su-35 added a new airframe, avionics outfit, and powerplant. The Su-35 includes AL-41F1S engines with thrust vectoring, an advanced fly-by-wire system, and new optronic suite. The canard foreplanes are gone, since other aerodynamic refinements are sufficient to achieve super-maneuverability.

While Russia still hasn't introduced an active electronically scanned array radar — this will likely have to wait until the T-50 is ready — the Su-35S has the next best thing. The centerpiece of the avionics suite is the N135 Irbis, a follow-on to the Bars radar utilizing the same passive electronic technology.

Like the Russian air force's Su-30M2 and Su-30SM, the Su-35S was also originally meant as an export fighter, under the Su-35BM designation. The media has linked the Su-35 with a prospective sale to China, although in reality there is next to no evidence of any actual Chinese interest in such a deal.
Instead, Moscow stepped in and ordered the Su-35S version for its own air force in 2009. The Kremlin has received 22 aircraft as of February, 12 of which are with the first front-line unit at Dzemgi. Delivery of the first batch of 48 Su-35S fighters is likely to end in 2015. Another 48-aircraft order is likely. With its advanced equipment and capabilities, the Su-35S is perhaps the most realistic interim fighter pending the arrival of the stealthy T-50 in significant numbers. Reportedly capable of carrying the new 200-kilometer-range RVV-BD air-to-air missile, the Su-35S could also prove a viable successor to the Russian air force's aging fleet of MiG-31 interceptors.

A Russian enigma

Why does the Russian air force need three different variations on the advanced Flanker theme? It would be more efficient to focus on one version, but the fact that rival production centers are responsible for building the fighters complicates Moscow's calculations. As long as the Su-30 family was enjoying success on the export market, having two competing airframe-builders was not a problem. As the least capable of the three, the Su-30M2 demonstrates the least potential for future growth. Indeed, there have been suggestions that Russia acquired the Su-30M2 only after airframes became surplus following the collapse of a planned sale to China.

The Su-35 boasts more powerful engines, superior radar, and an advanced self-defense suite. On the other hand, the Su-30SM is more readily available, cheaper, and has the advantage of two crew members, rendering it suitable for more complex combat missions as well as advanced training.

And now, foreign sales are threatening to dry up entirely. The most significant export operators of the Su-30 series, India and China, are building up their fleets through licensed — in the case of China, unlicensed — production.

Malaysia has elected not to acquire more Su-30MKMs to meet its multi-role combat aircraft requirement and is now mulling a fighter lease option. Additional Indonesian orders are possible to replace veteran F-5s, but will not involve significant numbers.

Moscow has pushed domestic orders for the three different Sukhoi jets more than likely in order to prop up the business of Irkut and KnAAPO. At the same time, bringing these aircraft into Russian service could make them more attractive to foreign buyers. In particular, export sales of the Su-35 have long proved elusive.

Meanwhile, the Russian air force is badly in need of new fighters. The T-50 remains some years from service — and despite the highly positive media reports, there is little objective information on exactly how testing is going with the five flying prototypes.

Unlike with the American F-35, testing of the T-50 taking place outside of public view. But a recent leaked document discovered by long-term Russian aviation observer Piotr Butowski suggests that significant design revisions might be in the works.

The T-50's schedule has stretched farther and farther to the right. Originally planned for handover to the air force's Akhtubinsk flight test center for evaluation in 2014, recent announcements suggest this might now slip until the second half of 2016. This would derail plans to declare initial operational capability, and the start of full-scale production, at the end of 2016.

The best-case scenario would have seen 60 production T-50s delivered between 2016 and 2020, but this now seems a distant hope. As a result, the air force is badly in need of supplementary equipment.

Of the many hundreds of front-line fighters in Russian air force service, most are now seriously showing their age. The collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent economic crisis reduced production of combat aircraft to a trickle. Only in recent years has Moscow had the resources to buy meaningful numbers of new jets.

But while the three new Flankers represent a considerable advance in capabilities compared to their predecessors, the recent orders are still inadequate to wholly revamp the Russian air force. Even with dozens of new Su-30M2s, Su-30SMs, and Su-35Ss, the Kremlin's fighter fleet is simply too old.

The MiG-29, a lightweight complement to the Su-27, is in service in dwindling numbers, the most advanced examples being a single regiment of hand-me-down MiG-29SMTs rejected by Algeria. Heavyweight MiG-31s still occupy six front-line bases, but only a limited number have been upgraded to MiG-31BM standard — and there is no evidence that these have received their promised advanced new weapons.

With a planned upgrade for the MiG-29s having evaporated, and with a dedicated successor to the MiG-31 looking increasingly unlikely, it seems that the various products of the Sukhoi design bureau will have to defend Russian skies over the long term.

Whether Moscow will keep buying the Su-30M2, Su-30SM, and Su-35 at the same time remains to be seen. Russia's jet fighter future rests heavily on the fortunes of the T-50 project.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Aug 25, 2014 - 09:03pm PT
Tom, good articles, the first particularly. There just ain't no damn free lunch, especially
aerodynamically, is there? Harriers sucked, the newer ones only less so. A friend of mine
was surely among those 200 Lockheed engineers who cheered the JSF announcement. I'll
have to ask him if he's read this article. Pretty sure he'll give me his standard answer when I
try to get him to talk shop, "Pour me another drink."

I see some soft spots in that Rand scenario, I hope. The chief being that I do put much stock
in our radar and weapons guidance superiority. I'm not sure how much value that received in
the gamers' eyes. I also don't think the Chinese would be able to get that significant of a drop
on us; I still think our intel is pretty good. It also sounds like they didn't game any use of Wild
Weasels, or AWACS. And when don't we have a carrier group not far from the South
China Sea? Finally, I'll take our guys against any damn rice-burners, no matter what they're
flying. I remember one exercise some years ago when three F-15's took out 15 Indians in
Mig-29's if I recall. Maybe not the same but I think we would still have a 3:1 kill ratio, at least.
Brits and Israelis are the only guys who come close to us. OK, maybe the odd German. ;-)

Trad climber
Santa Cruz Mountains and Monterey Bay
Aug 25, 2014 - 09:11pm PT
Israelis pilots seem to think they have it up on our guys...certainly lots of real experience

Both the Russians and Chinese seem to have figured out the importance of decapitating our AWACS and E6Bs first

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Aug 25, 2014 - 09:26pm PT
Tom, I don't care what they think, the Israelis always do well at Red Flag.
You can't argue with success. :-) Russkies and Chinese just don't know how
to act independently.

As to the bad guys going for the AWACs, a lot of 'em are gonna go down tryin'. :-)

Trad climber
Las Vegas, NV.
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 25, 2014 - 10:57pm PT
Time to take this back to jumpin' haha.

Finally got to jump in Hawaii during our honeymoon....after 7 years out of the sky unfortunately it wasn't on my own but man I missed being out of the door and on the hill...a little too much to be honest. But the wife draws the line at me going back to jumping and I don't blame her. The TM was nice enough to let me do my own turns at least.

Mine is right at pull time, hers of course is miles more photogenic. I got paired up with some cranky kid that didn't know he was hot turning the load. So she got the good shots. But the jump was great, the views were way better then the desert that I'm used to seeing in free fall, and I wonder how I can sneak out to the DZ next weekend....

Checking the alti out of habit...
Checking the alti out of habit...
Credit: Vegasclimber

The Mrs. getting her freefall on with awesome scenery
The Mrs. getting her freefall on with awesome scenery
Credit: Vegasclimber

Social climber
So Cal
Sep 3, 2014 - 12:30pm PT

Trad climber
Sierra Vista
Sep 3, 2014 - 03:07pm PT

I think the RAF usually does very well during Red Flag. In fact I think it's not unusual for the hosts to get spanked by the visitors.

A quick tour of Youtube would rapidly indicate that the USAF is not the be all and end all of combat flying...

Tally Ho!


Social climber
So Cal
Sep 3, 2014 - 05:39pm PT
Way back in ancient times when I was still in Jr High one of my friends wanted to show me this cool gadget his next door neighbor had given him.

It looked like an ordinary transistor case with glass where the top should be and a couple of extra leads.

He had it breadboarded with a couple of meters hooked up to it. with it at one end of the garage it could predict which of four quadrants one of us was holding a lit match in. Then we figured out that a little closer and all the gadget needed was the heat of your hand.

It was a reject sensor from one of these.

Far cry from what the 9X version is capable of


Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Sep 4, 2014 - 04:13am PT

Sounds as you're right on the mark w/r to the F35 program. But, it's unfortunately the way our military geniuses seem to do things; whether it's the equipment loaded onto a grunt carrying a rifle, or a sophisticated multimillion dollar apiece airplane/a.k.a. weapon system, they always overload the requirements and thereby exceed the carrying capacity of the entire system. There just isn't any "one size fits all" airplane, given the diversity of roles. Old saying comes to mind: "Jack of All Trades, Master of None."

My personal "take" is similar to that expressed in the article: the entire program will be cancelled before 400-500 are built. Give them ALL to the Marines, and then let the AF and Navy pick their own "new toys." There would be nothing wrong with an upgraded F18 Hornet, IMHO. Just so Lockheed won't feel left out, upgrades of the purportedly excellent F22 would be a better investment for the AF.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Sep 19, 2014 - 04:18pm PT
Don't know if this has been posted yet..


Trad climber
Las Vegas, NV.
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 19, 2014 - 05:04pm PT
I don't think it was, SLR. Thanks for posting it up, just saw it myself yesterday! Badass.
Sierra Ledge Rat

Mountain climber
Old and Broken Down in Appalachia
Sep 19, 2014 - 05:51pm PT
AS IF it wasn't bad enough that dogs can lick their balls and I can't, and now dogs are flying wingsuits.


Social climber
So Cal
Oct 1, 2014 - 05:14pm PT
You can't beat the low altitude flying record,

but you can tie it

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