Presenting The U.S. Military’s New Fighter, the F-35 Lightning II

-By Warner Todd Huston

It has been a tough few decades for high-end military procurement, for sure. Promising projects, hardware, weapons systems, trains, planes, and automobiles — not to mention numerous boats — have been started, millions spent on them, only to be unceremoniously cancelled due to those pernicious political whirlwinds. Our nation has an aging military infrastructure and we are losing ground to other nations.

But one project looks to have weathered those whirlwinds. That would be the F-35 Lightening II fighter jet. And this one is a must for national security, too.

I was happy to have been invited to a presentation of the F-35 in Rockford, Illinois put on by Lockheed Martin. There I heard about the F-35 from its development team, I heard from two Illinois congressmen, and was fortunate enough to have had a chance to fly the cockpit simulator (very fun, by the way).

As it happens, Illinois supplies quite a few parts and computer systems for the F-35, so a demonstration in Illinois was a very apt locale.

The new F-35 is already undergoing flight tests at various bases across the country and the military is training pilots to fly them as we speak. I keep saying “the military” and not the Air Force for a specific reason. This is not just a Navy plane, nor is it solely an Air Force or a Marine fighter. In fact, one of the reasons this project has survived the budget cutter’s axe is because it satisfies more than one role of a new fighter required by our military.

The F-35 has been configured for three different needs. This plane works for carriers, for air-to-air fighting and for air-to-ground needs. Consequently, this new fighter will replace several aging planes. The new plane replaces the F-16 Fighting Falcon, A-10 Thunderbolt II, AV-8B Harrier II, and older versions of the F/A-18 Hornet.

As to those three iterations, the F-35A is the Air Force version of conventional jet fighter, the Marines will get the F-35B, a short or vertical take-off version, and the Navy will get the F-35C, which is set up for carrier use.

This triple platform is what has made this project so desirable and so attractive to Washington bureaucrats. But it has also caused the project to go over time in development. After all, getting one plane to host three different software platforms and three different hardware configurations made it take a bit longer than expected to get off the ground. But, as it happens, the development team has solved those troubles and it seems to be clear skies ahead — if you’ll pardon the phrase.

The biggest success is the “fifth generation” stealth technology that the F-35 features. This tech surpasses any ever seen and once deployed will make it the most advanced aircraft in use today by anyone. In fact, the plane is so advanced that Lockheed Martin developers call it “ridiculously easy to fly.”

In fact, the new tech has been so successful the government has been taking some of its features and backfitting it to the F-22s that are in service. I was also told that some of the F-22s best features were used in the F-35.

Cockpit view of the F-35 Simulator

As I tried the simulator, I was able to land on an airstrip. My instructor showed me that the plane nearly landed itself. In battle, the sensors give the pilot the capability to fire missiles from miles away, so far away that the pilot cannot even visually see the enemy. Advanced sensors and computer screens on the cockpit show the pilot his target in real time. The pilot is also completely connected over a secure datalink with other fighters or AWACS in the battle airspace. The pilot is also aided by in-helmet displays of airspeed, altitude, attitude and other flight information.

I can’t really give you any insights on the flying of the thing as the closest thing I have to flight experience is deciding whether to ask for a coke or a scotch from a flight attendant. Still, the simulator was interesting, fairly easy even intuitive for a computer savvy generation of up and coming top gun pilots.

Fedoras a’ flight! How many top guns have a Stetson like that ‘un, huh?

I got some lovely parting gifts for not crashing and burning a multimillion dollar fighter jet, too!

As I mentioned above, two Illinois representatives were in attendance and both congressmen addressed the assembled. We heard brief comments from Rep. Don Manzulo of the 16th District and Bobby Schilling of the 17th, both districts in which parts and systems for the F-35 are being manufactured.

Left to right: Rep. Bobby Schilling and Rep. Don Manzulo

The congressmen also got a chance to fly the cockpit simulator.

Top Gun Schilling strikes!

Ace Manzulo stalks the skies!

After the presentation I had a chance to ask the pair of congressmen a few questions.

Here is my interaction with Rep. Bobby Schilling, Ill. 17th District.

And my interview with Don Manzulo of the Illinois 16th.

I have to apologize for the abrupt ending of that Manzulo interview. I asked him about China and he got fairly into his answer when the worst thing that can happen to a reporter in the field occurred. My silly FlipCam ran out of battery power. That was the end of the interview, though. I did not ask any more questions of Congressman Manzulo after he finished his China remarks (which were spot on, by the way).

During the presentation on the F-35 we were introduced to Andreas Schell, President of electronic systems at Hamilton Sundstrand (Rockford, ILL) and Stephen O”Bryan, a Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Vice President (See their bios HERE). Here is the video I took of that Lockheed Martin presentation:

Part One of the Lockheed Martin Presentation

Part Two of the Lockheed Martin Presentation

Thanks to the Lockheed Martin team for inviting me for the event.
“The only end of writing is to enable the reader better to enjoy life, or better to endure it.”
–Samuel Johnson

Warner Todd Huston is a Chicago based freelance writer. He has been writing opinion editorials and social criticism since early 2001 and before that he wrote articles on U.S. history for several small American magazines. His political columns are featured on many websites such as Andrew Breitbart’s,, and, as well as,,,,, among many, many others. Mr. Huston is also endlessly amused that one of his articles formed the basis of an article in Germany’s Der Spiegel Magazine in 2008.

For a full bio, please CLICK HERE.

Copyright Publius Forum 2001