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.