The F-35 is a tour de force of bleeding edge military technology. Also it violently jars its pilots and knocks their displays out of view on takeoff, as a new government report examines. Now the multi-trillion dollar plane needs its landing gear fixed or completely replaced.
The problem is that in testing conducted last year and analyzed recently, the F-35 experiences a kind of violent motion that bangs the pilot’s helmet around. The helmet and the pilot’s oxygen mask mash against the pilot’s jaw, which can cause “severe pain” in and of itself, according to a decent percentage of test pilots, the majority of whom reported at least “moderate pain.” Moreover, pilots can’t read their vital heads-up displays on their bonked-around helmets, so they’re blind to critical information during takeoff thanks to the F-35's problematic nose gear, as Popular Mechanics reports, citing Inside Defense.
This is not a light helmet; at just over five pounds, it’s too heavy to be worn safely by small pilots. But it’s also a critical part of the F-35's design, so it’s not what was recommended for revision by the Department of Defense and its “red team” started last September to address this issue. Fix the F-35C’s landing gear, the red team advised, or replace it entirely.
PopSci laid out how these two solutions could look:
The “red team”—typically a group created within an organization to challenge existing assumptions with new ideas—recommended a slate of actions with short, medium and long-term timelines. Short and medium term options range from changing the restraint system for pilots to modifying the nose landing gear. Longer term options include modifications to the aircraft carriers themselves or a redesign of the F-35C’s landing gear, which would take one to three years to complete.
It’s not clear how much of a delay this will cause in the F-35 program, but it doesn’t look great.