FighterSweep Fans, we have good news coming out of the F-35 Joint Program Office. Despite what a lot of critics say, the pilots and maintainers of the JSF are actually very pleased with the aircraft’s performance and reliability so far. For example, earlier this year, the first combat-coded F-35s at Hill Air Force Base in Utah lost nearly five times more sorties to weather than they did to maintenance–no small feat for a platform that has faced a significant number of challenges.
As the Air Force races to declare its F-35 jets operational before the end of the year, observers are still warning about schedule delays, a faulty logistics system, and software glitches.
But here at Edwards, the pilots, maintainers and technicians of the F-35 integrated test force say they are happy with the plane — in fact, in many ways the joint strike fighter is a huge improvement over legacy systems.
Lt. Col. Raja Chari [461st Flight Test Squadron Commander] said the biggest difference between the F-35 and flying legacy platforms is that the pilot, freed from basic “stick and rudder” tasks by the JSF’s automation, is able to focus on mission planning.
Officials say ongoing challenges with the F-35’s Autonomic Logistics Information System, or ALIS, is the single biggest obstacle to declaring the Air Force jets operational on time. An internal diagnostic system that tracks each part of each plane worldwide, ALIS has been the subject of frequent criticism over the years, including the recent claim that if a single server goes dark it could cripple the entire F-35 fleet.
But maintainers here say that claim is ludicrous. Even if the power goes out, the team can still use ALIS, said RJ Vernon, supervisor for AF-3. All of the jet’s information is stored in a device called a portable maintenance aid, or PMA, which the team can load to the main ALIS data base once the power comes back on.