I flew supersonic (barely) at the F-35C roll-out

Photo by Stephen Trimble

Lockheed Martin formally unveiled the first F-35C today carrier variant at the factory in Fort Worth, Texas. I’ll be writing more about that tonight and tomorrow, but first let me tell you about my ride in Lockheed’s F-35 demonstration simulator.

The simulator is for demonstration purposes only. It is not intended to accurately simulate the F-35′s flight and handling qualities. But Lockheed has coded the system to approximate how the F-35 should fly. So it rolls at the F-35′s promised roll-rate at 300 degrees per second. It apparently tops out at Mach 1.6, the F-35′s top speed.

In my scenario, I was flying an F-35B catapulted off a carrier deck. (The catapult launch was my choice, not theirs, by the way). I was loaded with a full weapons load, four internal and four external weapons (2 X AIM-9, 2 X AIM-120, 2 X GBU-32). After climbing to 11,400ft, and with 12,000lb of fuel, I opened the throttle to max speed. I accelerated very slowly from Mach 0.94 to Mach 1.0, and that was it. The system refused to fly any faster in level flight.

I don’t know whether I should be pleased or disappointed, but I’m interested in hearing opinions.

Also, here’s a video introduction of the F-35 demonstrator with Lockheed’s chief pilot interface engineer, Mike Scaff.



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8 Responses to I flew supersonic (barely) at the F-35C roll-out

  1. John S. 29 July, 2009 at 2:42 am #

    Can the F-35B really catapult launch, or was that just simulator magic?

  2. Dave 29 July, 2009 at 3:02 am #

    You know where I stand on this…

  3. ELP 29 July, 2009 at 9:38 am #

    Looks like great fun.

    Good work!

  4. Dan 29 July, 2009 at 12:33 pm #

    Steve, you said you had 4 internal and 4 external munitions… but you only listed 6? Could you clarify this.


  5. smsgtmac 29 July, 2009 at 5:39 pm #

    As t owhether of not you should be pleased or disappointed….you need more information as to what the barely over mach spped actually means. Questions to ask:

    1. Is the simulator setup at present to emulate the F-35 in a fully opened flight envelope or just the part of the envelope the C is expected to fly? Is the sim software limited to emulate an initial software limited flight envelope?

    2. Were you at an altitude to even expect to see max speed? 10-11k ft, while a good altitude to expect best airspeed performance in a light plane, may not be the best place to expect Vmax for a plane that goes to over 30K ft, and would expect to do most of its high speed transiting well over 20Kft.

    3. Is there any claim for M1.6 in a dirty configuration? I know of no other fighter to achieve claimed Vmax while carrying external, non-conformal, stores. BTW: M1.6 is a very typical back of the envelope Vmax for aircraft w/o variable geometry inlets.

    In the absence of other and contrary info, I’d say your V in the configuration and at the altitude you mentioned was pretty much what you should have expected.

    Next time jettison the external stores (if they’ll let you) and go to around 20K ft to play ;-)

  6. alloycowboy 30 July, 2009 at 1:17 am #

    The airplane flys so simple it looks a four year old could do it. Kudos to Lockheed Martin for that!

  7. Dan 30 July, 2009 at 2:59 am #

    Steve I am dead certain the reason you failed to push over Mach 1 was the fact you had 2 external JDAMs… I don’t think any USAF jet is cleared for supersonic flight with any 2000lb bombs hanging under the wings… You were probably FCS limited.


  8. LEG 8 December, 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    The question then becomes whether or not you can recover with that load or if you are required to dump ordnance to get down to a useful T/Wr for the daytemp and densities.

    To be honest, I don’t think that this ‘convertiplane’ (35C becomes B) nonsense is very logical or cute either, because it hides a key shortcoming of the two types:

    1. Even with a pendant and a skijump, USN F-35Cs will not launch or recover from a gator deck. Could they do so, they would in fact sterilize them as helo carriers.

    2. Unless the aircraft is at VTOL load state (no gas, minimum internal weapons), an F-35B will be hard pressed to launch or recover from a CVN big deck.

    Off the waist (because the foredeck is usually an airpark), there is only about 250ft in front of the JBD and even nozzle down, it’s unlikely that the JBD will be lowered for a ‘running start’ from further back because the transition thrust is significant. And again, no skiramp at the end means no attitude setting lift boost.

    While, in recovery, you will always be ‘angling in’ (threading a needle, diagonally) with jets waiting for takeoff or an elevator on both sides of the angle deck and thus no traditional ability to sidestep in from the left as Harrier carriers do without downwashing a bunch of parked airframes and people.

    Also, if there are CVTOL recovery ops underway, the pendants cannot be removed for the alternative which is a rolling VL such as the British (SRVL) intended to practice before they ran screaming into the night.

    Which means you have a lot of vertical load on the struts at 100+ knots of controllable descent rate (which the STOVL flight model _does not_ emulate here, particularly with say integrated JPALS symbology or auto glideslope capture).

    Overall, if this guy is at 85% of thrust with less than 2 minutes of margin between Joker and Bingo _and no weapons in evidence_, that tells me the F-35B is considerably underpowered as well as a gas hog for the required amount of around-the-boat reserves vs. bringback we would expect from CVTOL airframes.

    i.e. The F-35B -as depicted- in this non-spec simulator is a toy.

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