When Ford contacted me as a media member who would be attending EAA AirVenture 2014, with the opportunity to fly Lockheed Martin's F-35 simulator, I jumped at the chance! Now, I'm happy to report that I'm highly proficient at flying the military's
biggest boondoggle most advanced fighter jet.
Ford was kind enough to arrange a special appointment for me to check out their huge display here in Oshkosh. It's a sprawling space, complete with the newest engines, the latest models of every car in their lineup, and a one-of-a-kind F-35 Lightning II 2015 Mustang.
When I arrived, I was met by Eric Best, with Lockheed Martin's Center for Innovation. "Have you ever flown a plane?" he asked. "Nope. But I have a good familiarity with cockpit instruments and what they do," I said. I took my seat in the cockpit, with a panorama of screens before me, representing what a pilot would see from his/her seat.
He guided me through some basic instructions — throttle, joystick, target selection, weapon selection. I was impressed to see that all of the F35s cockpit displays are touchscreen. Eric said the plane can "sense" targets from over 100 miles away. I pushed the throttle forward all the way into afterburner mode. Once I hit 150 knots, I eased the plane into the sky. Eric had me take her up to 2,000 feet, then he had me do a full loop by pulling the joystick straight back. I was surprised by how easy it was, and how quickly the plane responded. He also had me perform a few aileron rolls before we got to the really fun stuff.
Next, he had me fly toward two aerial targets — enemy jets. The throttle (on the lower left side of the seat) also has your target selection, which you move like a cursor until the target is illuminated. Next, on your joystick (to the right of the seat) you select your weapon. Missiles, obviously. I was locked on and had closed to within 20 miles before my target had sensed my plane. I pressed the fire button, the "pickle switch" and a missile fired. He never knew what hit him. Then a few seconds later, I sent blew away his wingman too.
My experience in the F-35was the most fun I've ever had in a simulator, followed closely by Boeing's 787 sim, which I also landed successfully. My mom once asked if I thought I could land a plane in an emergency, and I said [having no actual cockpit experience] if I had someone talking me through the steps, I could probably do it. It might not be pretty, but I think we'd all walk away. After all, if I can land a sim, I can do the real thing too, right?
Photos by Paul Thompson, from EAA AirVenture 2014 in Oshkosh, WI. Top Image by Cherry Point on Flickr (CC Commercial License)