The U.S. Air Force version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has shortcomings that will get pilots shot down in combat, according to a leaked Pentagon report evaluating combat testing of the plane.
"The out-of-cockpit visibility in the F-35A is less than other Air Force fighter aircraft," states the report from the Defense Department's Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation, referring to a pilot's ability to see the sky around them.
Test pilots' comments quoted in the report are more blunt.
"The head rest is too large and will impede aft [rear] visibility and survivability during surface and air engagements," said one. "Aft visibility will get the pilot gunned [down] every time" in dogfights, opined another.
The report, known as an Operational Utility Evaluation, was posted online by spending watchdog the Project on Government Oversight.
A spokesman for Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin, the lead contractor on the $400 billion multi-service F-35 program, which is developing three different versions of the plane for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, defended the aircraft’s performance.
The Air Force undertook its own Operational Utility Evaluation on the F-35A last year, said Lockheed Spokesman Michael J. Rein. The service’s Air Evaluation and Training Command found the plane “ready to conduct safe and effective flying training operations,” he said.
In addition to limited visibility, the aircraft's much touted multi-million dollar electronic helmet mounted display — which is supposed to project important technical information onto the faceplate of the pilot's helmet — "presented frequent problems for the pilots," according to the report.
These included "misalignment of the virtual horizon display with the actual horizon, inoperative or flickering displays, and focal problems — where the pilot would have either blurry or 'double vision' in the display," the report states.
The report shows that the F-35A "is flawed beyond redemption," commented POGO staffer and veteran defense spending analyst Winslow Wheeler.
The Air Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
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