Tag Archives: F-35 Lightning II

The Fascinating History of Lockheed’s Famous “Skunk Works”

From an unexpected source comes this following video, a long one (53+ minutes) compared to most we post, but more than worth the entertainingly intelligent and richly educational perspective provided by the speaker, Mr. Nickolas Means . . . software engineer par excellence.

Nick has had a lifelong love affair with anything and everything aviation related, and has a special fascination for some of the worst airplane accidents and tragedies – which he studies just to learn what the humans directing the events leading up to those accidents did right – – – and did wrong.  His focus on these otherwise morbid events is a strategic one:  He sets out to explore and better understand the Cockpit Dynamics of the flight crews in these tragedies.

Mr. Means sets about colorfully describing the history of some of the First Aero’s most famous flying machines (The U-2 and SR-71), but with the prime focus on the creative team of geniuses at Lockheed who invented them.  The below video is much akin to the TED series of educational and enlightening lessons we’ve so often enjoyed.  In fact, aside from its longer duration, this presentation by Nickolas could easily be one given to the huge international following of the entire TED series.

Long before Agile and Lean became computer programming buzzwords, a scrappy group of aerospace engineers led by Kelly Johnson at Lockheed’s Skunk Works, were using similar practices to produce some of the most amazing aircraft ever built. The famous U-2Dragon Lady” spy plane, the SR-71 “Blackbird,” and the F-117A Stealth Fighter are among the incredible planes the engineers at Skunk Works produced under impossibly tight deadlines and exceptionally limited budgets – – – and let’s not forget to mention their latest brilliant fighting machines, the twin engined F-22 Raptor . . . (below at left)

F-22 Raptors in Flight.

and,  and most recently, the single engine F-35 Lightning II, pictured at right:

Formation of two F-35 Lightning II’s

What can we learn from the stories of these amazing planes and the engineers who built them?

Let’s go back to our roots and let the original Skunk Works experts teach us about building awesome stuff together.  Chief Skunk Works Engineer, Kelly Johnson, steadfastly held to certain governing principles in his management style, one of which was his belief that the best things can be accomplished by a “small group of good people.”  Consequently, his team was notably small, but lean and meanly intelligent – – – and their budgets were notoriously small and deadlines alarmingly short.  But their results were astoundingly brilliant – – – and successful.

While his counterparts elsewhere at Lockheed usually had large groups of employees and equally large budgets, this was rarely the case with Kelly’s Team.  Lockheed’s other projects, even those which produced the final designs out of their Skunk Works, had the latest in engineering technology deeply integrated into their operations, whereas Kelly’s team refused to use the latest CAD (Computer Aided Drawing) equipment, relying, instead, on good old-fashioned pencil and paper drafting techniques. The comparatively simpler use of paper and pencil better fulfilled the extreme need for flexibility that Kelly required of his team.

Kelly’s Skunk workers were always minimalists in how they created, and drawings of their designs were notably simple rather than complex, as were – and needed to be – the final drawings used for actual production of the Skunk Works designs.

Even Kelly’s successor as CEO at the Skunk Works, Ben Rich, continued the high-creativity “think-outside-the-box” spirit of his predecessor, which resulted in the same predictably brilliant results as those achieved by the team under its original chief.  The Skunk Works’ success makes it a model enterprise for the study of management styles and of the excellence that can be achieved when teamwork and worker independence are paramount management principles.

It was Kelly’s outstanding methods of management that eventually carried over into the cockpits of modern Airliner cockpits, where Crew Resource Management* techniques have been applied to bring about the same sort of excellent flight safety results as did this same ideology of team work lead to such astoundingly brilliant results at the Skunk Works.

ABOUT the presenter: Nickolas Means: Nick hails from Austin, TX, the Taco Capital of the World.

When he’s not busy eating tacos, he’s the VP of Engineering at Muve Health, working with an incredibly talented team of developers to change how healthcare is delivered and paid for in the US. He’s a huge believer that software development is mostly human interaction and that empathy is the key to building great software.  He is also an enthusiastic promoter and believer in the new Airline Pilot training scheme called Crew (or Cockpit) Resource Management.*

*Crew resource management or cockpit resource management (CRM) is a set of training procedures for use in environments where human error can have devastating effects. Used primarily for improving air safety, CRM focuses on interpersonal communication, leadership, and decision making in the cockpit.

Lambart Briefs Daedalians on U.S.’s new Joint Strike Fighter

A F-35 Lightning II test aircraft undergoes a flight check. (Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

All below photos may be seen in higher resolution by simply clicking on them, and the videos all have sound and may be viewed at full screen, also.

The FASF’s Ric Lambart (at left) just briefed the El Paso, TX Daedalian Flight 24 on his 2018 visit to Edwards Air Force Base, CA Flight Test Center and about his introduction to the new Joint Strike Fighter, the Generation 5 new weapons system, the most costly ever purchased by the Pentagon. Here is a depiction of its relative costs:

  • The F-35 is not just the most expensive warplane ever, it’s the most expensive weapons program ever. But here is exactly how much a single F-35 costs.
  • A single Air Force F-35A costs a $148 million. One Marine Corps F-35B costs $251 million. A lone Navy F-35C costs a mind-boggling $337 million. Average the three models together, and a “generic” F-35 costs $178 million.
  • And, you might wonder how much it costs per hour of flight time:
  • $41,000 per hour.
  • The U.S. is the first nation to design, manufacture and fly a 5th Generation Jet Fighter.  The new F-35, the second “Gen Five” machine, will be operated by thirteen of our closest Allies. It was designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin, who coincidentally also made its WWII namesake, the P-38 Lightning.  It is produced in three (3) models, or “Variants,” as shown above.  Notwithstanding its official name, the Lightning II, many of its operational pilots have given it another nickname: The “PANTHER.”

L to R: Colonel Alan Fisher and USAF ROTC Cadet, Ammber Valverde of UTEP and NMSU, chat after the F-35 Power Point presentation. Both are FASF members.

The F-35A model, for the Air Force, the B model, for the Marines and the C Variant, for the USN.

 

 

The Marine Corps B Variant can actually take off vertically, just like a helicopter, and can also land vertically.  The below short (1:40) video show how this is done:

Here is another short (1:35) video of this USMC F-35B operating off a small WWII type special aircraft carrier, which has neither a catapult nor a slant deck as do all new generations of USN Aircraft carriers.  Those features simply are no longer needed for this new USMC F-35 Variant:

Unlike all previous fighters, the F-35 “Lightning II” (named after the high-speed prop-driven Lockheed P-38 Lightning of WWII fame) is unique, not only because of its advanced stealth features, but because it is a flying combat information center, with advanced electronics capabilities never before seen in a new fighter.

It can also fly at supersonic speed for over 170 miles without even engaging its afterburner, which is called flying at “Super Cruise.”  The F-35 was designed to work together with the only other 5th Generation fighter, the F-22 “Raptor.” The two ships will work as a team in various combat scenarios, should their help ever be needed.

While the F-22 Raptor is more maneuverable, the F-35 is designed to engage and take out enemy aircraft long before the enemy has even detected the presence of the new flying weapons system. It can carry a wide array of different missiles internally, rather than attached to its fuselage and/or wings.  This of course does a great deal to enhance its stealth capabilities.

The Lightning II is actually capable of shooting down enemy aircraft beyond the horizon.  The pilots of this futuristic weapons system can actually see in all directions; wherever they look: including directly behind and directly below the fighter.  It the pilot looks down between his or her knees, they can see right through the fuselage as though it were invisible.

A number of electronic “eyes” are built right into the ship’s fuselage, and what they “see” is projected right onto the inside of the pilot’s helmet visor – – – a first.  These futuristic helmets alone are some $400,000 each! Here is a short (1:28) video about this unique helmet:

Additionally, Inputs from both ground intel and airborne recon craft are all displayed on the F-35’s integrated glass panel touch screen display, again, unlike any of its 4th or 3rd Generation predecessors.

Much like the mysterious Area 51, the existence of which was never even recognized by the Air Force until relatively recently, Edwards Flight Test Center also presents a similar air of mystery, since access to it is so highly restricted.

While on active duty with the Air Force, this reporter often flew in the vicinity of Edwards, but was always kept at a substantial distance, because the air space around the Base was so highly restricted.  As a result, this recent visit to the facility was anticipated with no small amount of excitement.

The local Daedalian Flight 56, at Edwards, invited a number of fellow Daedalians from around the country to make this special visit, so that they might learn about the United State’s newest and most advanced airborne weapons system. The 461st Flight Test Squadron, under the command of Lt. Colonel Tucker “Cinco” Hamilton (at right), played official host to the visiting Daedalians. An AFROTC graduate, Col. Hamilton has flown 30 aircraft from a zeppelin to a MiG-15 to an A-10, and, and managed the entire $3 Billion Joint Strike Fighter Developmental Test program out of the Pentagon for all three services. Cinco started his Air Force career as an operational F-15C pilot.

 

LATE BREAKING USAF NEWS: An officer at Edwards Air Force Base in California last month became the first female test pilot to fly an F-35.  See below:

(L-R) Maj. Rachael Winiecki, the first female F-35 test pilot, and Airman 1st Class Heather Rice, her crew chief.

Maj. Rachael Winiecki, a developmental test pilot for Colonel Hamilton’s 461st Flight Test Squadron, flew her first test flight in the Air Force’s most advanced fighter jet this past Dec. 14, according to the USAF.

 

L to R: Colonel Mario Campos, Flight 24’s Commander, who operated the Power Point Show, and our top Aviation News Scout, Virgil Hemphill. Both are FASF members.

And below, is a final video (2:00 long) showing the F-35 in a number of different combat scenarios and roles as it completed its final test program:

Lambart also gave the history of how Edwards Air Force Base was named, as seen immediately below:

USAAF Captain Glen Edwards.

L to R: Ric Lambart and Laura Kelly, both Daedalians, pose in front of one of Edward’s test F-35’s . Kelly was an Army Helicopter Pilot.

An old archived photo showing some of the Base’s famous Pilots, including Chuck Yeager at the center, with his wife, Glennis, after whom he named his rocket ship.. Yeager was the fist man to break the sound barrier – all at Edwards.

“Pancho” Barnes, (center below) who owned the famous bar and resort, “The Happy Bottom Riding Club,” was one of America’s most famous female aviators in her own right.  Aside from being one of Hollywood’s best stunt pilots, she was actually the organizer of the Hollywood film industry’s first Stunt Pilot’s Union.  It was at the “Riding Club” that her good friend, Chuck Yeager managed to break some of his ribs just before becoming the first human being to break the mythically impossible Sound Barrier in the Rocket Research Ship, the X-1, which bore his beloved wife’s name, “Glamorous Glennis.”  Of course Yeager didn’t tell anyone about his broken ribs for fear of missing this extraordinary opportunity to make history.  This particular incident is an episode in 1983 smash hit movie about the early astronauts: “The Right Stuff.” Yeager is played by actor Sam Shepard.  Pancho’s Bar and Grill was the favorite hangout of all those heroic early aviators who daily risked life and limb test flying our country’s most advanced new aircraft.  The below photograph was for sale at Iconic Auctions, in 2017, at the first offer of $1,000.

L to R: Pioneer Female Pilots: Debie Stanford, Pancho Barnes and Amelia Earhart.

Immediately below, is the 2009 award-winning documentary film’s trailer about the Barnes’ Riding Club and the famed aviatrix herself. It is 2:03 long: