I am often amazed at my timing–good or bad. Today I was definitely in the right place at the right time and I just had to share the experience with you all. In an effort to protect the innocent, I won’t say where I was or who I was with, by I am constantly humbled by the quality of the men and women I have the chance to interact with in my travels, as well as the friendships I have formed over the years of doing this.

So today, my timing was impeccable. Passing through, I called up a friend and asked if he wanted to meet up since I was in the neighborhood. After a short discussion, I soon found myself walking up to the Lockheed-Martin F-35 Lightning II cockpit demonstrator–the traveling roadshow used to drum up support for the program, as well as to educate as to the TLL (Twin-Tailed Lightning)’s projected capabilities once it becomes operational.

While I am a pilot, I haven’t flown any fifth-generation aircraft, and I was eager to hop in and get a feel for the F-35. I have several acquaintances who fly this airplane and it was a great opportunity to add to my own personal experience base, which allows me to ask more educated questions about what they deal with in the struggle to bring this airplane to maturity.

The F-35B Lightning II is very easy to land aboard an aircraft carrier or amphibious assault ship.
The F-35B Lightning II is very easy to land aboard an aircraft carrier or amphibious assault ship.

My initial assessment is this: the aircraft was designed to increase the situational awareness of the pilot and streamline the handling of massive amounts of data being collected by the sensors–which are very formidable. I honestly found it a little overwhelming at first, but the longer I flew the aircraft, the easier it became to navigate the various systems.

The airplane is very easy to fly, and very responsive to the pilot’s control inputs. In a short amount of time, I was performing conventional takeoffs and landings, and also had the opportunity to land the B-model on a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship, utilizing the jet’s STOVL capability.

Once we got past some of the basics of airmanship, it was time to go to work on both air-to-air and air-to-ground threats. I don’t want to dig too much into capabilities, but suffice it to say that, once the bugs are worked out and this is a mature weapons system, it will be a very formidable platform, based on the avionics and sensor fusion alone. As for the low-observable characteristics and performance parameters? I’m going to leave those topics alone.

All in all, it was an hour of sim time in a new airplane, and I am very grateful for the opportunity! I had an absolute blast, and my thanks to the men who made it possible.