Friday, January 13, 2017

F35 Program, Progress and Problems

Aviation Week had a two page article on where the F35 program stands now.   For openers, Lockheed and the Air Force after lots of negotiation, were unable to agree on the terms of the contract for the next batch of aircraft (Low Rate Initial Production lots 9 and 10) .  The Air Force finally issued a contract, without Lockheed's approval, on a take it or leave it basis.  The F35 A model, the Air Force model is now down to $100 million each.  The first ones built way back in 2007 cost $250 million each.  That's not too bad, although the last F22's procured were only $80 million.  The two other variants of the F35 cost more.
   And the ground based software is late.  The Automatic Logistics Information System (ALIS) software isn't ready yet.  We didn't have anything like ALIS back when I was pounding a flight line.  It apparently handles the paperwork, recording each maintenance action, what failed, what was done to fix it.  We flew combat in Viet Nam and did all that stuff with pencil and paper.
   And the on board software crashes.  Maybe every ten hours the pilot gets a blue screen of death and has to reset the system.  Aviation Week claims this is not a safety of flight issue, the plane still flies with the computer crashed, but in combat to have to reset the computer to make the missiles launch or the gun fire could ruin your whole day.  Software is up to block 3F, which is supposed to have code to launch all sorts of different missiles and bombs.  Except the 3F software is having trouble handling the AIM 9X Sidewinder missile.  Which is strange, Sidewinder worked off the Korean War era F86 Sabrejet.  You would think if the pre computer vacuum tube F86 could handle Sidewinder, the all solid state and heavily computerized F35 could too. 
   The article said nothing about the F35 gun, which a year ago was inoperative due to lack of software support.  Let's guess that the block 3F software was successful in getting the gun to fire.  They also said nothing about the 5.6 G limitation imposed by the engines.  Last year it was found that more than 5.6 Gs caused the rotating parts of the engine to bend enough to let the compressor blades hit the engine casing.  This caused an engine fire resulting in the loss of an aircraft last year. Since they didn't say anything about an engine fix, I think the services are living with the 5.6 G limitation, hoping that air to air missiles will pull the necessary G's to nail the enemy fighter.  The ancient F106 could pull 8 G's any old time. 

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