Update, March 7, 11:09pm: Early returns are in from the first major flight tests of the new F-35 jet fighter, and they are not pretty. The radar malfunctioned, the fancy helmet visor didn’t work properly, and the radio and navigation systems were hard to operate. It was difficult to get the test planes ready for flight and keep them aloft — with just four hours of flying time between critical failures, on average.
And did we mention that it was, well, hard for the pilots to see out of the cockpit?
These shortcomings are listed in a 48-page, Feb. 15 Pentagon report obtained by the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit group in Washington, and published online this week. Signed by J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief testing officer, the report amounted to a detailed and damning “I told you so” by his office.
Gilmore had warned last July, in an earlier report leaked to outsiders, that the F-35 was not close to being ready for its “operational” flight tests. He said the plane’s many shortcomings at such an early stage of its development — it is just a third of the way along, he said — posed excessive risks for the pilots, and he expressed skepticism that the Air Force would learn much of anything useful.
The Air Force decided to start testing anyway, and sent four test pilots aloft in a total of 148 flights between September and November on nine different planes, all from a base on the Florida panhandle. The effort fell far short of a normal flight test series, Gilmore’s report noted, with the planes limited to “very basic aircraft handling, such as simple turns, climbs, and ascents,” and barred from flying at night, near lightning, or in clouds, close formation or with simulated engine stalls.