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F-35 Lightning: The US military’s frontline fighter jet

Jan 31

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In this episode of Weapons and Warfare, buckle up to explore the advanced capabilities of the F-35 Lightning, the United States’ newest fifth-generation fighter. Built by Lockheed Martin and operated by the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, the F-35 is poised to be the frontline fighter for the next quarter-century.

Since its induction into service in 2015, the F-35 has secured its position as a crucial component of the United States’ primary line of defense.

Beyond its role in national security, the advanced avionics of the F-35 have proven instrumental in enhancing pilot capabilities, enabling them to achieve heightened proficiency at an accelerated pace.

Straight Arrow News’ Ryan Robertson spoke with Tony “Brick” Wilson, a retired Navy aviator and current Lockheed Martin F-35 test pilot, to understand what makes the jet such a formidable force.

“With a single F-35 and the capability that it brings to the pilot, you can identify almost anything that’s out there,” Wilson said.

F-35 pilots now benefit significantly from advanced technology that provides them with a clearer understanding of the battlefield. This advancement renders traditional dogfights essentially obsolete.

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“If I have the capability to find, fix and track an aircraft to include what its identification is, then I can pick the best tactic to solve that tactical challenge, long before this threat ever knows that I’m even there,” Wilson said.

The aircraft itself isn’t the sole technological leap making life in the cockpit more manageable. Helmets, too, play a crucial role.

“If you’d asked me or told me when I first started flying about this helmet, I would have been like, ‘This is something out of Star Wars,'” Wilson said. “The capability I see today, I can only imagine and get excited about what’s in the future with this helmet.”

In the realm of movies, when asked about the most unrealistic pilot depiction in Hollywood, Wilson pointed to “Top Gun: Maverick.”

“When they said we couldn’t send in fifth-gen. Right, because of X, Y, or Z. It was completely fake news,” he said. “The reason Maverick Top Gun didn’t use the F-35 was because it would have made the movie boring. They would have launched off the carrier, they would have picked their way through the threat, they would have put the bomb on the target and come back undetected.”

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[RYAN ROBERTSON]

IF YOU WERE ONE OF THE MILLIONS THAT ENJOYED THE TOM CRUISE BLOCKBUSTER ‘TOP GUN: MAVERICK’, THEN YOU NO DOUBT REMEMBER HOW MUCH OF THE MOVIE WAS SPENT TALKING ABOUT TAKING ON FIFTH-GENERATION FIGHTERS. SO IT MIGHT SURPRISE YOU TO LEARN THAT THE UNITED STATES HAS TWO FIFTH-GEN FIGHTERS. THE NEWEST OF WHICH IS THE F-35 LIGHTNING. BUILT BY LOCKHEED MARTIN, AND FLOWN BY THE AIR FORCE, NAVY, AND MARINES, IT’S EXPECTED TO BE THE U.S. MILITARY’S FRONT-LINE FIGHTER FOR THE NEXT QUARTER CENTURY. I RECENTLY CAUGHT UP WITH F-35 TEST PILOT TONY “BRICK” WILSON TO FIND OUT WHAT MAKES THE LIGHTNING THE BEST FIGHTER JET IN THE WORLD.

SINCE ENTERING SERVICE IN 2015 THE F-35 HAS NOT ONLY ESTABLISHED ITSELF AS PART OF THE U.S.’s FIRST LINE OF DEFENSE, BUT IT’S ADVANCED AVIONICS ARE HELPING PILOTS BECOME BETTER FASTER.

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]

“What used to take, you know, a naval aviators, you know, say eight to 12 years to achieve to become a large force mission commander, you now have the capability to lead a large number of aircraft into a combat scenario with the F-35. And the tools that it provides the pilot pilots are attaining that level in two to four years now.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

ONE BIG ADVANTAGE F-35 PILOTS NOW HAVE IS TECHNOLOGY THAT PAINTS A MUCH CLEARER PICTURE OF THE BATTLEFIELD. MEANING DOGFIGHTS ARE ESSENTIALLY A THING OF THE PAST.

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]

“With a single F 35. And the capability that it brings to the pilot, you can identify almost anything that’s out there, and if I know what I’m going up against, then I can solve any tactical problem, right? Because I’m able to exploit on the weaknesses of whatever I’m going against, as well as capitalize on my strengths.”
If I have the capability to find, fix and track an aircraft to include what its identification is, then I can pick the best tactic to solve that tactical challenge, long before this threat ever knows that I’m even there.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

”And by solve that tactical challenge, that’s a nice way of saying take out the bad guy?”

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]

“Exactly… Exactly.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

FOR THE MODERN FIGHTER PILOT THE JET ISN’T THE ONLY TECHNOLOGICAL LEAP MAKING LIFE IN THE COCKPIT A LITTLE EASIER.

“The helmet, we talked a little bit about it, you know, you have the six cameras. But the idea of like a glass plane, you know, like, I just look around, and I can see anything and everything. I want to like that when you were training to become a pilot, you know, all those years ago? Was this considered like? Would that would that be magic to you?

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]
if you’d asked me or told me when I first started flying about this helmet, I’m like, this is something out of Star Wars. This is not, I’m never gonna see it in my lifetime. And now it’s here, right? And we’re only getting better with our helmet technology. So, you know, the capability I see today, I can only imagine and get excited about what’s in the future with this helmet.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

We’re running out of time. So I’m going to skip to my last couple of questions. What is the most unrealistic thing you’ve ever seen depicted? In Hollywood on TV, whatever, where you’re as a pilot, you’re just going, that’s stupid.

[TONY “BRICK” WILSON]

“Maverick Top Gun when they said we couldn’t send in fifth Gen. Right, because of X, Y, or Z. It was completely fake news. Right? The reason? You know Maverick Top Gun didn’t use the F 35. Was it would have made the movie boring, they would have launched off the carrier, they would have picked their way through the threat, they would have put the bomb on the target and come back undetected. Right? And like, come on, really? You know, I understand the reasons why. But But yeah, going back to your previous question about you know, when I first started flying, you know, what was capable what wasn’t as a test pilot, one of my roles is to help engineers make the impossible possible. Right. So I’ve seen what’s where we’ve gone from fourth gen. fighters to fifth Gen fighters and I again, I’m I’m just super excited to see what comes next.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

I WANT TO THANK TONY FOR SHARING SOME TIME WITH US. IF YOU’RE INTERESTED IN HEARING MORE OF OUR DISCUSSION, BE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE WEAPONS AND WARFARE PODCAST WHEREVER PODCASTS ARE AVAILABLE.

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