The F-35 program is alive and well at Eglin AFB. On Friday a week ago I was offered an opportunity to vist the F-35 training facilities at Eglin so the powers that be could show those not directly involved with the F-35 program exactly what we are supporting.
The first round of pictures are of one of the rooms the maintainers use to learn hands on skills they will eventually use to maintain the aircraft in the field. Interestingly, these F-35s are missing their front and rear. Also, the Marines, Navy, and Air Force versions of the aircraft are all training at Eglin. Two of the different versions are represented in each of the three models in this room. If you look closely you will see the aircraft are split down the middle with one half being one variant and the other half being another variant. I can see why the F-35 program is so expensive. Basically, you have three totally different aircraft.
These are inert bombs and missiles with the same weight as the real thing for loading practice.
The bomb loader.
We moved into another room where a model of the front of the aircraft was housed. Again everything is exactly as the real deal for training purposes. Here’s the pilots seat. Notice how the canopy opens forward. That was designed that way to accommodate the Marine version of the F-35 which has a helicopter-like blades just behind the pilot to allow the aircraft to do short take-offs and vertical landings. The downside of that is that the canopy won’t open during forward flight due to the pressure from the air. Most fighter jets canopies open toward the back. So whenever the pilot has the need to eject there is a bead of explosive running around the edges and center of the glass canopy to blast it out just before the seat goes up and away. And if the explosives fail there’s a spike on the back of the pilots seat to break the glass out as you can see in one of the pictures.
And now… the real deal! This here is the newest F-35 at Eglin. It’s hot off the press. This aircraft has only 10 hours of flight time on it. We were in a hanger with five F-35s but we were only allowed to take pictures of this one plane. It was a beauty! Before we enter the hanger though we were taken to another room I don’t have pictures of and given a breakdown of the pilots uniform. They have a suite that has bladders in the pant legs to put pressure on the blood to force it into the pilots head when pulling G’s. The suit is designed to allow the pilot to withstand a sustained 8 G’s. Which means that a 100 lb. pilot would weigh 800 lbs. You can see the pilot in the photos giving us a briefing on the aircraft. I think the coolest thing about the suit is the helmet which has an option for the pilot to see through the aircraft. The helmet is integrated with a camera system located in various locations on the outside of the aircraft that allows the pilot to look down at his feet and see not his feet but the earth below. The picture is displayed to both eyes just as if the plane wasn’t in the way.
Why were we allowed to take these pictures and post them? Because the F-35s strengths are not seen on the outside of the aircraft. It’s the smarts that are built into the craft that give it the edge. The Air Force is calling it a 5th generation aircraft due to it’s technological advances as opposed to say an F-15 which they would classify as a 4th gen. aircraft. There’s a new type of air combat in the fight for control of the skies that involves destroying the enemy at distances far beyond what the human eye can see. GO USA!!!