WASHINGTON — As the US Air Force prepares to declare its F-35A jets operational in just a few short months, the service is still working through software glitches that cause the jets systems to fail and need to be rebooted — sometimes mid-flight.
But the Marines, who have been flying their F-35Bs operationally since last summer, say they rarely see such shutdown events.
The test pilots at Edwards Air Force Base, California, see the systems on their F-35A jets fail even before takeoff about once every three flights. But the Marine Corps jets at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, almost always start up clean, Capt. Jordan Hedges, F-35B pilot and powerline office in charge, told Defense News in a recent interview.
During a development test flight of an Air Force F-35A at Edwards early this month, the jet's team was on the ground troubleshooting for nearly two hours before the aircraft finally launched. But for the Marines at Yuma, it usually only take 15 or 20 minutes to ready the plane for takeoff, Hedges said.
"If we fly a flight, come back, get gas, basically our wheels touch the ground and go back out, sometimes we have issues with the mission systems coming back online after that power cycle," Hedges said. "But they usually do come back, it just takes them a little while."
Occasionally, Hedges sees one of his jets' systems fail during flight, a recurring problem on all three F-35 variants caused by the software glitch. If Hedges sees one of his systems is degraded, he must re-cycle the power on that particular system — just like an iPhone, the operator turns the power off and then turns it back on.
But these incidents happen very infrequently, Hedges said. And even when it does happen, he just has to push one button to fix the problem.
"If you need the radar for the mission and your radar just happens to have a bad day, that would obviously degrade the ability of that mission," Hedges said. "It just depends, again the frequency of having those is fairly infrequent in my experience."
Hedges, who used to fly AV-8 Harriers, said overall he is happy with his experience flying the F-35B.
"It definitely handles better than a Harrier, I know that's not saying a ton, but I think it handles really well," Hedges said. "I have not found it lacking in any way, but obviously we have yet for our envelope to get opened up for us to really see what it can do."