What you are looking at is 4 F-35Bs, 2 KC-10 Extenders, 1 C-17 Globemaster III, and 1 KC-130 Hercules. All together, you are looking at approximately $1 billion worth of hardware. (Give or take, but I'm being generous here.)
These aircraft you see above will gather soon for a purpose. That purpose: So that the JSF can make its international debut in the United Kingdom. The F-35B is scheduled to perform a flight demonstration at the Royal International Air Tattoo in Fairford, followed by another aerial demonstration in Farnborough. There is also hope that the F-35B will perform a flyby during the HMS Queen Elizabeth's naming ceremony in Scotland.
Four fighters, two tankers, one heavy transport, one medium transport and around 80 personnel. That is what is needed in order for the F-35 to perform two air shows and a fly by. There may be a static display at the Air Tattoo, but the aircraft won't even be landing in Farnborough. There will be no vertical take off or landing, nor will there be any aerobatics.
“This won’t be a Typhoon display, we are showing the unique aspects of the airplane, but it is not going to be doing 50 Alphas [angle of attack maneuvers] and [pulling] 9gs, because we don’t have that flight clearance,” Nichols says.It should be noted that while the AV-8 Harrier was capable of landing just about anywhere a helicopter could, the F-35B's exhaust is so hot that vertical landings require as special landing pad.
“We are not going to do a vertical landing, because the surfaces that we need to have on the deck to conduct such a landing do not exist at Fairford or at Farnborough. Hovering is possible, however, so the role demo will include some maneuvers that show off the potential of the aircraft, along with some high-speed passes.”
Despite this measured approach to the F-35's international debut, tensions are high with the JSF program office right now. Flights were recently grounded due to an oil leak and flights have been suspended after an engine fire last week.
The pressure behind this transatlantic trip cannot be understated. There is growing doubt in Europe over the F-35 program, with Italy possibly cutting its orders further, Spain deciding to keep its AV-8Bs, and growing criticism in Britain. Being seen at Farnborough, one of the largest aerospace trade shows in the world, was likely considered a "do or die" scenario. Not only is it important for Lockheed-Martin and the Pentagon, but it is also important for Britain's Defense Secretary Philip Hammond, who would rather not have a photo-op taken with a cardboard cutout.Orlando Carvalho, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, which manufactures the F-35, says reliable operations will be the most challenging part of the deployment to the U.K. “I know we can do it,” he says, noting that two F-35Bs operated ship-based trials consistently during in 2011 and 2013. But, he acknowledges, keeping the planes flying continuously for both events will be demanding.Reliability is “behind where it needs to be” today, Lorraine Martin, F-35 executive vice president, confirms. But as retrofits are infused into new jets on the line—and eventually added to the earlier ones produced—constancy is increasing. The Navy’s small fleet has been far more reliable, she says, because they are among the most recent to roll off the line and include retrofits to faults identified early in the flight-test program.
Hammond is keen to have the aircraft flying at the ceremony to show he is not buying a paper aircraft, and wants to avoid a repetition of events at which other defense ministers posed in front of – or inside – full-scale models when announcing their orders.Sound familiar?
|Yup... Never gets old.|
Just to put a finer point to this, pay attention to the aircraft below:
For those of you that lost count while scrolling down, that is 10 Saab JAS-39 Gripens and followed by a single C-130 Hercules. All the equipment and spares needed to support those 10 Gripens for a 4-week expeditionary deployment can be stored in that single Herc... With room to spare.
Four F-35s, 2 KC-10s, 1 C-17, 1 C-130... For a couple of air shows out of a major air base.
Ten Gripens and a C-130... For a 4-week deployment.
Just let that sink in.