WASHINGTON – For the first time since a controversial report detailing how the F-35 performs in a dogfight emerged last summer, an F-35 pilot gave an in-depth analysis of his experience flying the jet in a close-range battle scenario.
"This improved ability to point at my opponent enables me to deliver weapons earlier than I am used to with the F-16, it forces my opponent to react even more defensively, and it gives me the ability to reduce the airspeed quicker than in the F-16," wrote Hanche, a US Navy test pilot school graduate with 2,200 flight hours in Lockheed Martin's F-16.
Hanche now serves as an instructor and the assistant weapons officer with the 62nd fighter squadron at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
In the defensive role, the pilot can "whip" the F-35 around while simultaneously slowing down, Hanche wrote. The plane can actually slow down more quickly than a driver is able to emergency brake a car.
"This gives me an alternate way of pointing the airplane where I need it to, in order to threaten an opponent," Hanche wrote. "This 'pedal turn' yields an impressive turn rate, even at low airspeeds. In a defensive situation, the 'pedal turn' provides me the ability to rapidly neutralize a situation, or perhaps even reverse the roles entirely."
Hanche did have several critiques of the F-35's performance, including a shaking or "buffeting" at high g-loadings and high angles of attack. In comparison, the F-16 hardly shakes at all, he noted. This buffeting has made it difficult for several F-35 pilots to read the information displayed on the heads-up display. However, Hanche has not found this to be an issue while using the third-generation helmet.
"The cockpit view from the F-16 was good, better than in any other fighter I have flown. I could turn around and look at the opposite wingtip; turn to the right, look over the back of the airplane and see the left wingtip," Hanche wrote. "That´s not quite possible in the F-35, because the headrest blocks some of the view."
But Hanche was able to improve his visibility by moving forward in his seat and leaning slightly sideways, before turning his head and looking backwards. This enabled him to see around the sides of the seat.
Hanche stressed that he was still able to maintain visual contact with his opponent during aggressive maneuvering, and the cockpit's visual limitation is not "a genuine problem with the F-35."