Radical new upgrades to the F-35 announced

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According to a report released by the General Accounting Office there is a severe risk that observers will be bored of the F-35 before it even achieves Initial Operating Capability (which for the F-35A is pegged for 2016). The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II project is the biggest military procurement deal in history with a total programme cost estimated at over one quattuordecillion dollars over the aircraft’s anticipated 25 year service life.

But the report, released on Tuesday, pours cold water on the upbeat progress reports propagated by manufacturer Lockheed Martin. An excerpt from this damning document reveals that “Public interest in the aircraft, after years and years and years of print and on-line articles has diminished any curiosity left in the heart of anyone”. More alarmingly, even pilots of the stealthy fighter jet are growing weary of thinking about the so-called ‘Gray Slug’ and there is a severe risk that some will fall asleep at the controls. One USAF servicemen, who declined to be identified, noted that “It’s not the fastest airplane, or the most colourful, or the best-looking and I’m sure as hell bored of reading about it. I’ve tried pinching my hand during sorties to stay awake – I’ve even tried playing Snake on the helmet system, but it was too juddery to get a good score…like many I’ve applied to transfer to a tanker unit in the hope of a little more adrenaline.

Aviation journalists, when not collecting Northrop Grumman lanyards at air shows, have also expressed exhaustion. One journalist we talked to at the Farnborough Air-show opined that “Block this, Block that, budget this, budget that…I can’t bear to read or write a single other word on the bloody thing. I like that Russian one though, the one that looks like a YF-23 and doesn’t work”, he later added- “Oh yes, and that Chinese Firefox one named after the soft drink is cool too” before disappearing to the stall of a Dutch manufacturer of ball bearings to get a free sandwich and pen.

With so little interest in the type, Lockheed Martin is preparing to ‘sex it up’ by adding silicon breasts and a rubber penis as part of the low rate initial production (LRIP) 8X phase of the project.

European fighter houses are watching these developments with curiosity and many expect that Saab is soon to counter with a completely topless Gripen that can blow smoke-rings out of a recently developed 3D vectoring nozzle. Eurofighter are planning a big sombrero for the Typhoon, but are yet to reach agreement (or funding) from the client nations. 

F-4X PHANTOM III: The swing-wing Phantom

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The US Navy’s F-111B project was looking distinctly shaky in the mid-1960s. It was too heavy and too sluggish, so the Navy looked around for alternatives, a search which would eventually led to the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The McDonnell company offered an unsolicited solution, a variable geometry wing variant of the hugely successful F-4 Phantom II. An assessment of this proposal, given the provisional designation F-4 (FV)S, revealed that this it was lacking in several key areas, notably combat effectiveness: the AN / AWG-10 radar and AIM-7F missiles would be a significant downgrade from the desired AN /AWG-9/AIM-54 combination. Scorned by the Navy, McDonnell offered the aircraft to Britain as a cheaper alternative to the Anglo-French AFVG then under consideration. This aircraft would have been powered by the British Rolls-Royce RB-168-27R  and given the designation F-4M (FVS). This promising project never left the drawing board.

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The 14 most insanely heavyweight fighters of all time

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The lightest fighter on this list of titanic pugilists weighs in at an astonishing 31 tonnes, the heaviest at over 63 tonnes, is the same weight as 12 adult elephants.These formidable fighter aircraft were created in such generous proportions for a reason, and are generally long-ranged, very fast and extremely well armed. Almost half of them failed to reach front-line service, often crippled by the huge costs incurred by such heavy advanced fighter projects. The joker in the pack is the Boeing YB-40, a long-range escort fighter version of the B-17 bomber. Armed with up to 30 ‘fifty-cal’ guns (and sometimes a 40-mm cannon) this ferocious gunship proved too heavy and draggy to keep up with the bombers it was created to protect. After a 25 aircraft operational trial it was cancelled.

The weight given is the maximum take-off, apart from when otherwise specified.

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14. Maple Regrets: Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow

Arrow

Year: 1958

Max take-off weight: 31,120 kg (68,605 lb)

Length: 23.71 m (77 ft 9 in)

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13. Military Industrial Oedipus Complex: Lockheed Martin F-35A/C Lighting II

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Year: 2006

Max take-off weight: 31,800 kg (70,000 lbs)

Length:  15.67 m (50 ft 5 in)

12. Le Strike Eagle: Dassault Mirage 4000

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Year: 1979

Max take-off weight: 32,000 kg (70,548 lb)

Length: 18.70 m (61 ft 4 in)

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11. The Reluctant Gunbus: Boeing YB-40 Flying Fortress

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Year: 1943

Max take-off weight: 34,000 kg (74,000 lb)

Length: 22.6 m (74 ft 9 in)

10. Iranian Topgun: Grumman F-14 Tomcat

5a248fca2f9bc413ac7c5c5ab76b69e6Year: 1970

Weight: 33,720 kg (74,350 lb)

Length: 19.1 m (62 ft 9 in)

9. Heavyweight acrobat: Sukhoi Su-30

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Year: 1989

Weight: 34,500 kg (76,060 lb)

Length: 21.935 m (72 ft 9 in)

8. The Unborn Oligarch: Sukhoi PAK FA

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Year: 2010

Weight: 35,000 kg (77,160 lb)

Length: 19.8 m (65 ft)

7. China’s Raptor: Chengdu J-20

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Year: 2011

Weight: 35381 kg (78,000 lb) – estimated

Length: 20 m (66.8 ft)

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6. Foxbatmobile: Mikoyan MiG-25

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Year: 1964

Weight: 36,720 kg (80,952 lb)- (loaded not maximum)

Length: 19.75 m (64 ft 10 in)

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5. Reagan’s Lamborghini: Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor

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Year: 1997

Weight: 38,000 kg (83,500 lb)

Length: 18.92 m (62 ft 1 in)

4. McNamara’s Folly: General Dynamics–Grumman F-111B

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Year: 1965

Max take-off weight: 39,900 kg (88,000 lb)

Length:  20.98 m (68 ft 10 in)

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3. Fiddler on the roof: Tupolev Tu-128

Tupolev Tu-128 Fiddler

Artist: Anthony Cowland

Year: 1961

Max take-off weight: 43700 kg (96,342 lb)

Length: 30.06 m (99 ft)

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2. Psycho-reheat: Mikoyan MiG-31

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Year: 1975

Max take-off weight: 46,200 kg (101,900 lb)

Length: 22.69 m (74 ft 5 in)

1. Skunky nightrider: Lockheed YF-12

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Year: 1963

Max take-off weight: 63,504 kg (140,000 lb)

Length: 30.97 m (101 ft 8 in)

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Special thanks to Combat Aircraft’s Thomas Newdick and artist Ed Ward for their generous help.

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You should also enjoy our other Top Tens! There’s a whole feast of fantastic BritishFrenchSwedishAustralian, Japanese , Belgian,  German and Latin American aeroplanes. Want something more bizarre? The Top Ten fictional aircraft is a fascinating read as is the Top Ten cancelled fighters.

Read an interview with a Super Hornet pilot here.