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February 8, 2007The F-16 was designed to be a dogfighter and adapted to use as a strike fighter, but the F-35 was always meant to be a strike fighter, with all that implies, so says Lockheed Martin’s top F-35 test pilot, Jon Beesley. Talking with reporters covering AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando Wednesday, Beesley explained that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may not have the roll rate or the post-stall agility of, say, the F-22, but it wasn’t meant to.

The F-35, Beesley asserted, will be an admirable fighter, but an exceptional strike platform.

Beesley, who has flown Lockheed’s first F-35—designated AA-1—seven times, said one feature he was a bit worried about has proved to be no trouble at all. The Integrated Power Pack, or IPP, is a new device that is an all-in-one Auxiliary Power Unit, Environmental Control System, Emergency Power System. In legacy aircraft, all three have been headaches, but the IPP is an “elegant” merging of all three that works much better and saves considerable weight, Beesley said and added, that the IPP is “a star performer.”

He says that the only flaws so far he has seen in test flights involved an air data probe inconsistency that when “tweaked” now works fine. On the second through seventh test flights, Beesley raised the gear and tested the speed brake. On the JSF, the speed brake doesn’t present a dedicated surface that juts into the airstream—as on most previous fighters—but provides an all-around deflection of various control surfaces.

Beesley said that, with few exceptions, the aircraft matches simulations with very high fidelity.

All engineers are conservative, and most fighters are overdesigned, Beesley said. Part of the F-35 test program will be aimed at finding where there’s excessive structure, to aid in the relentless battle against weight. However, weight cutting is not an absolute must. During the successful campaign to trim 3,000 pounds from the F-35 design, Lockheed actually added 500 pounds to beef up certain areas so they’d work better. Other areas were trimmed to recapture the give-backs, and the 3,000-pound goal was met.

And, commented Beesley, the F-35 conventional takeoff version is so well packaged that it can carry as much fuel, internally, as the larger F-22 can. Part of the reason is that the conventional takeoff and landing model has a big fuel tank behind the cockpit, occupying a void where the lift fan will be on the Marine Corps short takeoff, vertical landing version.

Beesley predicted that the F-35 strike fighter will exceed its range requirement of about 600 nautical miles of combat radius.