A Bloomberg reporter got away from numbers for a day, to play inside Lockheed Martin’s most pricey video game.
The F-35 Cockpit Demonstrator provides pilots with a good sense of how to handle one of the most lethal birds of prey the U.S. Military has ever launched.
Bloomberg recently sent reporter Peter Cook to get some personal experience flying the military's most expensive piece of equipment.
But not even pilots fly an 80-million dollar fighter jet without stepping into one of these first.
The F-35 Cockpit Demonstrator mimics precisely the dimensions and instrumentation of a real F-35.
Stepping into the simulator, Cook noticed immediately how tightly designers packed the cockpit.
'I can't even get in!' He said. Then later, once he'd been strapped in completely, he said he felt comfortable.
Even though it looks like an uber-nerd's video game chair, real pilots attest to the accuracy of the demonstrator's experience.
They universally report that there's almost no difference between how the actual jet flies and how the demonstrator simulates flight, minus the adrenalin and the g-forces.
Future pilots find a well organised, compact, non clutter-filled heads up display, and learn to steer the aircraft via rudder pedals, at the feet, and sticks located at both sides of F-35's seat.
Controls mounted out of sight but easy to reach maximise bits of information displayed to the pilot during flight.
'These here are what's going to drop your bombs,' said the Lockheed Martin press handler, 'and this here,' he said gesturing to the screen, 'will jettison certain things, so be careful with that.'
'Like my ejector seat?'
'Uh, we've removed the handle so you can't go up through the ceiling.'
'That's good!' Said Cook, smiling at the camera. 'That's important.'
'Back on the stick,' coached Lockheed's Danny Conroy, a retired Air Force fighter pilot, as Cook took off short from a carrier at sea.
Cook maneuvered the plane through the sky, making the experience look almost intuitive, at one point he even threw down a barrel roll.
'I hope my wings didn't touch the water,' he said, levelling off.
Cook then engaged an enemy fighter in a dog fight. The heads-up display showed him honing in on the target, the flaming trail of his missile, and finally the spiraling wreckage of the enemy aircraft.
With just a thumb and a big red button, off goes one AIM-120C air-to-air missile, 'to take out an enemy fighter from 23 miles away.'
Then Cook landed the plane, vertically, on a moving ship, at night.
Believe it or not, the fun wasn't over yet.
Cook then donned the military's most expensive, and highly anticipated in-flight helmet.
This piece of gear alone costs 300,000 dollars. It's custom made, and feeds six onboard cameras right into the visor. The cameras are highly and precisely calibrated, tracking the pilot's head movement, so they move when he moves, providing a 'binocular-wide' field of view.
'See,' said Cook, with a television screen behind him, 'When I turn, the cameras turn. Turn to the right, see it on the right, turn to the left, see it on the left. Everything right in front of my eyes, crystal clear.'
'After another midair kill,' said Cook, 'and a flyby of Las Vegas, I bring the bird home. Mission complete.'
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