When Ralph Heath was general manager of the programme that grew into the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, he would probably have had some misgivings at allowing a youngster who spent most of his leisure time hunched in front of computer games anywhere near the cockpit of ‘his’ aircraft.
Now, however, as president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, he has found that it is this ‘video generation’ of pilots that is expanding the parameters of knowledge on the type. “They are discovering ways of using the platform never envisaged when it was conceived and deployed,” Heath told a pre-show briefing.
It was the younger pilots, who had grown up around video technology and to whom computers were second nature, who were using the aircraft’s data fusion capabilities in ways that the programme’s test pilots, perhaps more ‘traditional’ in their way of discovering things, had not.
“They are inventing new tactics on how you operate as a four-ship or a two-ship formation that isn’t what we were imagining when we were given the set of requirements.
“It’s demonstrating what a force multiplication that can be, to use the information and sensors on your colleague to operate a much wider formation that has a multiplier effect.”
Asked if Lockheed Martin was prepared to undertake further upgrades of the F-16, despite the risk this could affect sales of the F-35 Lightning II, Heath said the company was “absolutely ready” to improve the older aircraft.
However, he believed that “when people realise what the fifth-generation aircraft offers, they won’t want anything else. Anything that’s not a fifth-generation fighter is going to be disadvantaged.”