When Lockheed Martin rolls out the F-35C on July 28, US Navy pilots will be one step closer to operating a single-engine fighter off a carrier deck. The DEW Line contributor Dave Majumdar explores this issue with an active F/A-18 pilot with more than 1,700 flying hours, who asked to remain anonymous.
If there is any doubt that the US Navy aviation community will accept a single-engine fighter, such as the F-35C, one pilot has a clear answer: That “decision has been made” already and, after all, “the Navy is not a democracy”.
But concerns about the issue among rank-and-file pilots clearly linger.
The F/A-18 pilot says the Navy has worked hard to get to a point where only twin-engine jets were serving on the decks of carriers. In a single engine aircraft such as the Lockheed F-16, “a failure inany engine component that leads to a loss of thrust or flame-outequates to a quick attempt to try to troubleshoot the problem for a fewseconds before making the decision to eject. In a Hornet, by contrast,even a total single engine failure can be ignored” if the situationwarrants it, the pilot says.
Ideally, he adds, in the event of an engine failure, “flight can easilybe maintained at a safe altitude while carrying out emergencyprocedures”.
When the tri-service Joint Strike Fighter programme was formed in thelate 1990s, however, one area in which the Navy was forced to acceptcompromise was propulsion.
“The only way to meet the requirement was with one engine”, says SteveWeatherspoon, Lockheed Martin’s Deputy Test Verification officer forthe F-35 Integrated Test Force.
Weatherspoon says the Lockheed-led team has worked hard to increase the reliability of the sub-systems surrounding the engine.
For example, the F-35′s Integrated Power Package (IPP) providesconstant backup power to the control systems, he noted. Similarredundancies are found throughout the aircraft he said, minimizingrisks. Weatherspoon also points out that the reliability of singleengine fighters has significantly improved in recent years while mishaprates have gone down.
But Lockheed must overcome perceptions of propulsion-induced mishapsaccumulated and passed down among naval aviators since World War II. Whilesingle engine aircraft have come a long waywith regard to reliability, on many occasions theloss of an engine is due to external causes.
During his early years flying with the Navy (piloting the F-14 Tomcat),for instance, the F/A-18 pilot described one particular incident. Whileaerial refueling the cover for the aircraft’s probe broke off oncontact with the “basket” and was ingested into an engine — totallydestroying the machinery. “Flames shot out from that engine”, he says.
During another incident, he says he had witnessed a Hornet from hisair wing land on a carrier with one engine shut down while the otherengine, severely damaged, brought the stricken aircraft home. Uponlaunch from one of the catapults earlier, the aircraft had ingestedforeign object debris into both engines. Only the twin-engineconfiguration had saved the aircraft from disaster, he says.
While the Hornet pilot was less than enthusiastic about the singleengine configuration, other facets of the F-35C intrigued him. This wasespecially true of jet’s stealth and sensors.
F-35C meets US Navy’s single-engine derision
By Stephen Trimble on 27 July, 2009 in Uncategorised
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