PHOTO: Evolution of the F-35 design

The Skunk Works design for what became the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter evolved over a decade. A very early sketch showing an F-117-like faceted airframe had changed radically by 1990.

The “GhostHawk STOVL Strike Fighter” sported a configuration that included canards and a wing with a forward-swept trailing edge.

Unfortunately, Skunk Works destroyed the documentation for the classified GhostHawk concept after the DARPA-sponsored program terminated. When the US Marine Corps and US Air Force launched the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program a few years later, Skunk Works was forced design a whole new airframe. This time, the configuration would be based on the F-22, which had recently entered development.

F-35 “inventor” Paul Bevilaqua shared these details and images yesterday evening during an F-35 history lecture hosted at the Johns Hopkins applied physics laboratory in Laurel, Md. The public event provided a whole new look at the genesis and evolution of Skunk Works’ various concepts, ultimately leading to the X-35 prototypes and the three F-35 variants itself. Bevilaqua proved an engaging speaker, sprinkling his lecture with fascinating anecdotes and even a few pointed jokes, such as this one:

“There are three variants of the Joint Strike Fighter now. Several people have asked for additional variants. And the marines have asked if we could take out the lift fan and put in a seat for a congressman.”

I will be posting a three-part video recording of Bevilaqua’s lecture later today or early tomorrow.


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11 Responses to PHOTO: Evolution of the F-35 design

  1. aeroxavier 19 March, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    when you see today evolution of the price and of the delay …

  2. Bjørnar Bolsøy 19 March, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

    Nice catch! The Ghosthawk’s tails look rather small, perhaps the concept had TVC for supersonic stability and envelope expansion. I guess the chinned forebody would provide strong vortices at high alpha, though.

    It shares some recemblance to the “Stealth Craft” concept by SAAB a few years ago. Not surprisingly, perhaps, as it was influenced by Skunk Work’s F-117.

    The design claimed to have solved the problem of increased RCS due to having the close couple canard in a different plane than the main fuselage and wing, so called Z-plane — patented by SAAB.

    B. Bolsøy

  3. jetcal1 19 March, 2010 at 6:20 pm #

    The exhaust/lift system on the first drawing looks like Sir Camm and Sir Hooker meet Ben Rich.
    A rotating bifurcated platypus tail? Wow! I wonder what that puppy would have weighed?

  4. Obamanite 19 March, 2010 at 7:40 pm #

    Well, one thing’s for sure: that GhostHawk sure would have been far purtier than the SLUFF-y F-35.

  5. Per 19 March, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

    Here is a better illustration from SAAB — very close to the GhostHawk!

  6. marin 20 March, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    Three-part video recording? Thanks.

  7. Catch22 21 March, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    Stephen, Did you get a digital copy of that breifing if so can you forward it and the video please thx

  8. Catch22 21 March, 2010 at 4:27 pm #

    Stephen did you get by any chance the digital version of the presentation if so can you forward it. and indeed do post the video of the presentation thx

  9. SpudmanWP 22 March, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    It’s been a few days, where are the videos (or is it just my browser that cannot see them)?

  10. Naoma 17 August, 2010 at 7:42 am #

    I can’t think any reason why I would want anything in between.

  11. Bridget Difiore 5 January, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Leaking is inherently an anti-authoritarian act. It is inherently an anarchist act.

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