What is your strongest memory from the first flight of the F-35?
The thrust impressed me most. The first flight profile called for the F-35 to immediately go to 15,000 feet. I had to keep the speed at 225 knots during the climb since I had to keep the gear down, which limited the maximum speed.
I used nose attitude instead of modulating engine thrust to control airspeed during the climb to 15,000 feet. In other words, I had to raise the nose to slow down the airplane. I took off and started pulling back on the stick. I had to keep pulling back to stop from accelerating over the 225-knot limit. So I reached a rather steep angle, about twenty-five degrees of pitch. The steep angle, witnessed by the crowds on the ground, highlighted the raw power I was experiencing in the cockpit. The thrust surprised me. Not in the sense of “Gee, how am I going to handle all of this power?” But more like, “Wow, this is more than I expected.”
What was your overall impression of the airplane after that flight?
Overall, I was impressed by how well the entire first flight came together. I started the airplane, ran through all of our ground checks, taxied out to the end of the runway, and took off. The test team told me I taxied out to the end of the runway much faster than I did for any of the taxi tests. But I was ready to go and so was the airplane.
I was also pleased with how smoothly the airplane went through all the ground checks and how smoothly the airplane flew. As an example, the flap schedules on the original F-22 shook the Raptor at speeds above 200 knots. This objectionable buffet was addressed right away through a software change. Paul Metz [first pilot to fly the F-22] and I are the only two pilots who ever experienced that buffeting. I thought that I might experience some sort of buffeting with the first F-35, but I didn’t.
比斯利: We learned a lot from the F-22. Our engineers deserve a lot of credit. In fact, many of those who completed the checkout and testing of similar systems on the F-22 Raptor are performing the same work on the F-35. To name a few prominent examples: Kevin McTeague works on electrical systems; John Magbuhat works on flight controls; Paul Thoennes works on hydraulics; and Roy Schoberle from Pratt & Whitney works on the F135 engine. Many others with similar experience did the design integration work over the last several years. We also have some seasoned veterans involved in flight testing the new airplanes, which includes Mary Beth O’Loughlin as the test conductor for the first flight. We have a great team.
How has your impression of the F-35 changed in subsequent flights?
I continue to be impressed with the performance of the aircraft. The F-16s flying chase don’t have near the fuel capacity or payload capability as the F-35. The Lightning II does very well in comparison. For example, the F-35 often forces the chase aircraft into afterburner when it is in military power.
The airplane’s handling qualities continue to be very good throughout the flight envelope. When I raise the landing gear, the airplane flies very smoothly. The landing gear is sequenced, which is unique for a fighter. The nose gear comes up first, then the main gear follows. The gears drop down in reverse order. Another strong impression is that the airplane wants to fly a lot faster than we are allowed to fly at this point in the flight test program. Most of the time we fly at about thirty to forty percent of available thrust. This airplane can go out to high subsonic speeds very easily without using afterburner.