The US Navy will fix the F-35's headbanging problem

F 35c us navyUS Navy PhotoF-35C launching from a test range in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

In January, a report from Inside Defence broke the news that the US Navy’s F-35 variant, the most expensive in the Joint Strike Fighter family, had an issue with the nose gear that made takeoffs untenably rough, and the aircraft unsuited for carrier launches.

The Navy’s F-35C has had a history of problems with its development, as it attempts to master the tricky art of catapult launches from aircraft carriers, but the nose gear issue could set back the F-35C into the 2020s, if an innovative solution is not found quickly.

Business Insider then uncovered footage that appears to show the problem:

Essentially, the takeoff in the F-35C is too rough, jostling the pilots to where they can’t read flight-critical data on their $US400,000 helmet-mounted display.

“This is a very stiff aeroplane, even though the oscillations about the same magnitude as you would see in a Super Hornet, it beats the pilot up pretty good,” US Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan told reporters at the McAleese/Credit Suisse defence conference, as US Naval Institute News notes

F-35C pilots are “hurting after doing three or four of these [launches] and in some instances even banging his half-a-million dollar helmet on the canopy. That’s not good for the canopy or the helmet. So we knew we had an issue there,” said Bogdan.

Luckily, testing at a land-based US Navy catapult system showed that instead of a costly and lengthy redesign of the F-35C’s entire nose section, some smaller adjustments may suffice.

Jeff Babione, general manager of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program, echoed that sentiment at the company’s Washington, D.C. area office, telling reporters they had worked on a few simple changes that seemed to yield results. Babione said Lockheed Martin changed the way the pilot straps in, their head and arm position, and reduced the “holdback” — or stress on the plane — in the moments before launch.

“The initial indication is some of those techniques improved” the F-35C’s launches, said Babione, who conceded that the real testing would be done by the Navy aboard carriers “to see whether or not those changes were successful.” 

The make-or-break tests of the launch will take place at sea later this year.

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