Friday, September 20, 2013

"Will the F-35, the U.S. Military’s Flaw-Filled, Years-Overdue Joint Strike Fighter, Ever Actually Fly?"

Fascinating Vanity Fair article about the F-35 debacle.

"the F-35s that the Marines say they can take into combat in 2015 are not only ill equipped for combat but will likely require airborne protection by the very planes the F-35 is supposed to replace[...]

The political process that keeps the Joint Strike Fighter airborne has never stalled. The program was designed to spread money so far and so wide—at last count, among some 1,400 separate subcontractors, strategically dispersed among key congressional districts—that no matter how many cost overruns, blown deadlines, or serious design flaws, it would be immune to termination."
A correspondent writes in:
"Russia has a 5th generation fighter plane, the Sukhoi T-50. Notice that the T-50 rudders are farther from the center line of the aircraft than those of the F-35. That means they can be smaller, have smaller forces on them and be less of a visual barrier than F-35 rudders.

The US tried to develop a common fighter for the Air Force, Navy and Marines once before. It failed. It may have been the F-111. Anyhow, there seems to be no institutional memory of it.

The problem is that it generally is impossible to maximize more than one variable at once. So an aircraft optimized for carrier takeoff could not be optimized for close ground support or for deep, stealthy penetration.

Russia does not have to optimize an aircraft for carrier takeoff because it is defending a contiguous landmass with land-based planes, not projecting aggression across oceans. Freed of this requirement, Russia can make a superior fighter.

The requirement for concurrency worsens the problem of commonality. The requirement for commonality means there will be more errors during development. The problem of concurrency means the errors will be propagated through a larger number of aircraft before they are discovered. In effect, the development project has the cost of dozens of different prototypes at once, not just two or three at a time.

Engineering jobs such as aircraft design and production should use established principles. They should not be processes of discovery of unknown principles or limitations.

The F-35's pilot helmet violates this engineering principle. It ties a complex ergonomics research and software development project to the development of an otherwise simple aircraft development. The ergonomics knowledge is not there. The helmet is too complex for the human nervous system. the software is too big and complex to be bug-free. The result is dis-orienting and inferior to the naked eye.
What were the Soviets working on in the years before their empire collapsed?

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