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Flying the F-35… Almost

May 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Today I got a chance to fly the world’s most expensive (and accurately simulated) computer game – the Lockheed Martin F-35 Vehicle Systems Integration Facility (VSIF) static flight simulator in Fort Worth Texas. As apart of a small private tour with some leaders from the LM supply base, we received some personal insight into this fantastic facility and the awesome jet that it supports.

The VSIF is fully equipped with much of the actual hardware that the F-35 uses to control flight. For example, a large room stacked with load test cells holds row after row of actuators (one set for each variant) that spring to life at the touch of a computer key. All accurately move, under load, to the specific positions directed by the flight control system.

But the remarkable thing about the facility is that all of this actual flight hardware is electronically tied, not only to a bank of “flyable” computers, but a fully outfitted cockpit with a full color projected display of the outside world. Ladies and gentlemen, short of the real thing, this is the E-ticket ride.

Fortunately, no flight suit was required and my tie certainly didn’t qualify as appropriate fighter pilot gear. Dropping into the flight seat and sliding it forward into the tight and ergonomic cockpit space that just accommodated my 6′ frame, I truly felt one with the machine (yeah I know it’s cliched, but this is much more than bucket seat sports car). Every control was a touch away.

Dropping the parking brake resulted in a slight bounce in the projected image, that then rapidly started moving by as I pushed the throttle in my left hand up into (simulated) full afterburner. A touch of a foot on the right rudder pedal was all that was needed to hold the center of the runway. As the jet leaped into the air, I pulled the sidestick in my right hand firmly to the left and then to the right to execute a couple of quick snap rolls. I heard a note of exclamation as the rest of the group cheered at the response of the actuators in the load cells which snapped back and forth to my commands.

After a loop or two and a few 9-g horizontal turns (both feet resting firmly on the floor, rudder use was unnecessary for these maneuvers) I came in for a much too fast landing – okay, I wasn’t able to locate the speedbrake switch on the well-appointed throttle grip.

All in all, quite a ride and likely the closest this desk jockey will come to the real thing!

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