This celebratory year of naval aviation is not merely
about the past. The Fleet Air Arm’s new jump jet
will do just that in 2009 – jump. Joint Strike Fighter
chief test pilot Jon Beesley updates us on progress
with the replacement for the Harrier.
Enter the fi fth
THERE is something magical
Still none the wiser? A couple of examples its rival, Boeing’s X-32. All the testing, tweaking, or the scientifi c
about the Harrier.
should give you the idea… As of the end of 2008, the conventional analysis counts for nothing if the
Best of British and all that. Designed by
One is the Helmet Mounted Display. JSF prototype had fl own 69 times and aircraft doesn’t perform.
men with slide rulers, paper and pencil, not
Nothing new you might think – pilot helmets conducted many of the manoeuvres and Jon Beesley is in no doubt that it
mice, tablets and computer programs.
featuring various fl ight data and targeting functions which will be expected of it does.
The problem with nostalgia is that it’s, er,
systems (think Apache) have been around in service – supersonic fl ight, air-to-air “The guys on the ground have done
nostalgic. Yes the jump jet’s best of British,
since the 80s. refuelling, carrying a payload. an excellent job – they make us look
but it’s aged, more than half a century old
Except that all the vital information is held Britain is buying the STOVL (Short Take- good up there,” he says.
on the helmet’s visor; there is no Heads-Up Off, Vertical Landing) version of the jet. “What’s the JSF like to fl y? Very
The sun is slowly setting on the very last
Display – that mainstay of combat aircraft And although it’s fl own – 14 times to be nice, very easy. Comparable to the
variant of the Harrier, the GR9.
for four decades – on the JSF. precise – it’s only been fl own ‘conventionally’; Raptor. And it has tremendous combat
It is slowly rising on its successor, the Joint
And remember Firefox? The 1980s Clint no short take-offs, no vertical landings. Yet. capability.”
Strike Fighter, the great white hope of naval
Eastwood spy thriller (with rather dodgy That all changes in 2009. And he should know. His CV is a
fi xed wing aviation in the 21st Century.
special effects and Clint sporting an equally This month the jet heads for the hover ‘who’s who’ (or, more accurately, a
UK plc is investing more than £2bn in
dodgy ’tache)? “Think Russian,” a Soviet pit. Although the JSF will be attached to the ‘what’s what’) of modern jets: the
around 130 JSF for the Fleet Air Arm and
scientist urges Clint in a ‘Use the Force’ ground by (very strong) chains, engineers Phantom, the F-117 stealth fi ghter, the
moment. Clint does. Missile fi res. Enemy will be able to measure the thrust and take F-16 Falcon, the F-22 Raptor. In all, he’’s
It will be the punch of HM Ships Queen
blown out of sky. other vital readings as the aircraft hovers clocked up more than 5,500 hours
Elizabeth and Prince of Wales for at least the
The fi nished version Joint Strike Fighter above the pit (hence the name…). in more than 50 aircraft (earning
fi rst half of their careers.
will have voice-recognition software. You Next month comes air-to-air refuelling almost as many commendations,
We won’t see either of the ships until
won’t have to ‘think and following some testimonials and accolades).
2015 at the earliest. We should see the JSF
(just to confuse matters, it’s also known as
– but nor will it be
This is leading-edge
more tests of STOVL Most of those hours in our skies
systems, in May or have been spent as a test pilot.
the F-35 Lightning II and, less frequently,
used to fi re missiles.
technology. There is
June the fi rst vertical So what does he look for?
Joint Combat Aircraft) in our skies a little
“A pilot can select
nothing about the F-35
landing. “There are so many systems on this
weapons faster than Jon Beesley aircraft which have never been fl own before,
The fi rst Joint Strike Fighters are due
he can think about
which is lagging behind.
to be in service with the US military in
doing the action – ”
joined the JSF so you want to see if the aircraft really is the
team in 2002 one that was planned,” he explains.
2011-12, so the day when it crosses the
voice recognition – but it would “In many cases, the technology works
Pond for the fi rst time is looming.
software is far more useful for those more be four years before he or any of his other even better than predicted.
To date, a relatively small number of Brits
complicated functions, such as selecting fellow test pilots would get to fl y the fi rst “If you think about the Harrier, we’ve
have seen the Joint Strike Fighter. So what
a radio frequency, picking a waypoint,” prototype Joint Strike Fighter. taken a lot of the complexity out of it –
can they expect?
explains Mr Beesley. By that day, December 15, 2006, the JSF because we can. We have the technology and
They can expect something a world away
The net result is that the JSF gives the had a new name – F-35 Lightning II, as a the computers these days.”
from a Harrier.
pilot better situational awareness. homage to the wartime American P38 and There are huge leaps in technology
“This is leading-edge technology. There’s
“It’s important to know where you are, the legendary Cold War fi ghter the English between the Harrier – a child of the 50s and
nothing about the F-35 which is lagging
it’s important to know where your enemies Electric Lightning. 60s – and the Joint Strike Fighter – a child
behind technologically,” enthuses Jon
are and – thanks to the JSF’s stealth – it’s And in those four years every facet of of the 90s and 00s.
Beesley, chief test pilot for JSF builders
important that your enemies don’t know the aircraft was tested on the ground by the Will today’s breed of RN and
where you are,” says the test pilot. pilots and the engineers. RAF aviators be able to leap two Generation 4.5
“The JSF will change the way people
“If you fl ew a Phantom, you spent at least The test pilots spent hours in the generations? F15 Strike Eagle
think about aircraft, and anything which
half your time trying to control the aircraft. simulators (and still spend around ten hours Jon Beesley believes they will. F/A18 Super Hornet
comes up against it will have to be a whole
If you make the aircraft easier to fl y, you each week on them) tweaking, refi ning, “There’s a good training package Eurofi ghter Typhoon (left)
level of magnitude better to beat it.”
have more time to think.” passing on their knowledge and expertise to for pilots – I don’t see any problems in
The Joint Strike Fighter is a fi fth-
The Phantom was ‘third generation’. the designers. converting from a Harrier to a JSF,” he saayys s
generation jet fi ghter (Meteors and Me262s
From design to front-line service was just And at the same time, many of the confi dently. 20
are ‘fi rst generation’; the Harrier is ‘third
eight years. thousands of parts and components “Harrier pilots are pretty smart guys – 0
The JSF is already a dozen years in the which make up the JSF ‘jigsaw’ have been I’m sure they’ll pick it up.”
…Which to non-fast jet jockeys probably
making. ‘Demonstrator’ versions took to the tested to 150 per cent of the levels and
F-22 Raptor (left)
doesn’t mean a great deal. In a nutshell, it’s
skies in 2000 – allowing the American and stresses laid down in the aircraft’s original
AAC to the future, page 4 F-35 Lightning IImarina V
cutting-edge computer and fl ight systems
British governments to pick the Lockheed specifi cations.
merged with stealth technology.
Martin version of the jet, the X-35, ahead of
es: lockheed martin
0025_NN_Feb.indd 125_NN_Feb.indd 1 119/1/09 14:56:499/1/09 14:56:49
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