F-35 - Science Fiction Made Fact

If you’re a fan of Marvel movies you may have noticed a fairly unusual looking aircraft with vertical take-off and landing capabilities shooting at the Hulk on board SHIELD’s Helicarrier in Avengers Assemble.

That fighter was a prototype version of the next generation joint strike fighter known as the F35 Lightning II. Whilst it didn’t fare well against the Hulk it is undoubtedly the most sophisticated aircraft ever devised.

The joint strike fighter initiative was conceived in 1997 as a way to address an increasing need for a next generation multirole aircraft to replace America’s ageing warplanes.

The fifth generation F22 Raptor was built to replace the 40 year old F15 Eagle strike fighter but, the lack of air-to-air combat missions and its inability to supplant the equally antiquated F16 Falcon and F/A18 Hornet for ground missions and high production costs made it all but useless.

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Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Designed and developed by Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and BAE Systems; the F35 was built to address air superiority, close air support and air-to-ground missions, making it capable of replacing the F15, F16, F/A18, F22 and even the venerable A10.

However, anyone who follows defence news will know that it’s not been without its problems. The project is massively over budget, overdue and has bugs in the radar software that ghosts multiple enemy aircraft when the skies are clear.

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Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Despite those issues, the F35 is set to replace the US Navy’s F/A18s and the USAF’s F22s as well as supersedes the RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoon, although the latter will still remain in service for some time after. It will also be used by the air forces of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Israel, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and Republic of Korea.

So what makes this aircraft the ultimate in next generation warplanes?

Technology.

THE AIRFRAME

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Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The F35’s airframe is made from titanium and aluminium making it super light and incredibly strong.

The titanium structure bears a resemblance to human skeleton, with a network of curved spars that serve a similar function to ribs, giving the airframe incredible strength but keeping the weight down.

It also undergoes 8,000 hours of testing to make sure that the plane can survive, theoretically, maintenance free for its entire operational lifetime.

The wings and stabilisers have been specifically designed to maximise manoeuvrability that puts it on par with the Eurofighter Typhoon but without the aerodynamic instability and resulting need for complex computations to keep the plane in the air.

Each aluminium panel has been cast to within a micron’s tolerance to ensure minimum drag and to ensure the integrity of the radar defeating coating.

It is a thing of exacting science and, frankly, beauty.

The F35 weighs in at 13,199 kg, 6,501kg lighter than the F22 Raptor. This means it generates 2,000 lbs of thrust more than the Raptor taking it up to speeds of 1,500 miles per hour. Roughly 3 times the speed of a commercial airliner.

STEALTH TECHNOLOGY

Stealth Technology was first developed in 1958 to camouflage US spy planes with fairly poor results. However since then it has been successfully utilised on both the B117 and the B2 Spirit bombers and the F22 Raptor.

The F35 was designed from the outset to have stealth capability, its distinctive shape intended to disrupt and deflect scanning waves.

It is also treated with a radar defeating coating and has radar defeating materials incorporated into the ailerons and other, traditionally, detection vulnerable areas.

All of the F35s armaments, including missiles, are concealed within the airframe, only being revealed moments prior to firing. They can also be fired when the F35 is moving at supersonic speeds simultaneously increasing its combat effectiveness and survivability.

The stealth technology allows the F35 to engage targets at standoff distance whilst the enemy struggles to identify them on radar.

SENSOR AND COMMUNICATION EQUIPMENT

MRT -  F-35 - Science Fiction made Fact

Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin

The F35’s electronics suite has the capacity to track multiple targets, jamming communications and disrupting tracking signals.

Thanks to its Active Electronically Scanned Array, the F35 can carry out electronic attacks and project false sensor readings whilst the pilot focuses on flying the plane or engaging targets with conventional weapons. This is all in addition to technology that allows it to identify and defeat enemy radar, target and radar lock support and self-protection systems.

The more F35s you have in theatre the more effective these disruptive countermeasures prove as the planes work together to defeat the radar and targeting equipment both on the ground and in the air, eliminating the need for electronic support elements in high threat airspace.

In addition, the fighter is capable of networking with ground and sea assets and share telemetry and intelligence. This means that the F35 can not only get mission updates in real time but it can also act as a forward observer, gathering and streaming force disposition data to command.

This last innovation is perhaps one of the most important in recent years as it allows fixed wing assets to communicate vital, life-saving, information to those it will help the most.

Knowing enemy force disposition, damage inflicted and the like allows command to adjust plans and tackle threats with the minimum risk to life.

The F35 is a staggering collision of long established tenants of aviation and a dazzling array of technology that borders on the science fiction. It is, for all intents and purposes, a smart plane. It has more computer code and computational process than a space shuttle. It’s capable of assessing and intelligently engaging enemy elements in electronic warfare. Even the helmet uses augmented reality to allow the pilot to look ‘through’ the plane to the area around or below them.

And it’s all but undetectable whilst it does it.

As a supplier to the aerospace and defence market we have been watching the F35 project unfold with increasing amazement. Despite the technical issues there are no doubts that this is a phenomenal technical achievement.

MRT Castings are an award winning casting and machining provider with seventy years of experience producing highly technical castings for the aerospace and defence sector.

 

Contact us today to find out how we can support you with your next project.

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