In Depth

How it works: F-35A Drag Chute System

February 24, 2018

Using a parachute to bring personnel, cargo or equipment safely to the ground is one thing, but using those same basic aerodynamic drag principles to bring a stealthy 5th Gen fighter jet rapidly to a halt is another.

A team of experts from Lockheed Martin and the U.S., Norwegian and Dutch governments joined forces to develop the critical drag chute capability for the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-35As. The drag chute enables the RNoAF to safely and
effectively land the aircraft on short, icy runways.

Let’s take a closer look at the F-35 drag chute system.

How it works:

With the exception of serial numbers and other surface markings, one F-35 tends to look like the next... If you look closely, you can see a small, aerodynamic pod housed on the upper surface of the aircraft between the vertical stabilizers that distinguishes Norwegian F-35s from the rest. 

The system is essentially designed to be easily installed and removed, much like a wing pylon. The pod contains the drag chute system that rapidly decelerates the aircraft after landing on a short or icy runway. It is specifically designed to minimize effect on aerodynamic drag and radar cross section to ensure the aircraft maintains performance and stealth characteristics while flying.

When deployed, the F-35 drag chute slows the forward motion of the F-35A on landing and provides control and stability. The chute creates aerodynamic drag-- also known as air resistance, using the force of wind to push in the opposite direction of the motion of the aircraft so it can land safely on short, wet or icy runways. 

To deploy the chute, the pilot flips a switch on the upper left of the instrument panel, activating hydraulic actuators that open the pod to release a Kevlar parachute. Once the aircraft is slowed sufficiently, the pilot flips the same switch down to release the drag chute as the aircraft comes to a stop.

The Future is Here…

The F-35A drag chute is designed to be installed on all of Norway’s F-35As, and other countries have expressed interest in learning more about this useful feature. The Netherlands is also sharing in the development of this critical capability.

The drag chute has been in development since 2012. The system underwent initial wet- and dry-runway deployment testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California in 2017, and has nearly completed icy-runway testing at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. The drag chute is now being deployed at Ørland Air Base in Norway, after performing its first verification flight in mid-February 2018.