Marine F-35 Pilots Conduct ‘Dogfights’ During Sea Trials

Marine Corps Times // May 31, 2015

Test pilots for the Marine Corps' highly anticipated next generation jump jet recently slugged it out in simulated aerial fights off the Eastern seaboard as part of the aircraft's first round of operational testing.

Marines with three squadrons aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp flew dozens of sorties a day at the stick of the F-35B, the service's next generation short-takeoff, vertical-landing fighter that will replace the AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler.

The sea trials, which ran May 18-29, put the aircraft to the test in a real-world environment just weeks before it could be tasked with crisis response or attack missions. The first F-35B is expected to hit the fleet in July.

During testing, pilots were tasked with launching simulated attacks on each other or intercepting aircraft attacking the ship. The 'dogfights' showcased the aircraft's technology, which is far more advanced than legacy jets. The F-35 has more sophisticated stealth and electronic warfare capabilities — all in a single airframe.

"When you put together the stealth with the situational awareness, with it being connected to all the other airplanes, with the information sharing — this airplane is going to be pretty darn hard to beat," said Maj. Michael Roundtree, one of the test pilots with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 out of Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, South Carolina.

The pilots noted the aircraft's ability to provide "unparalleled situational awareness" through its advanced sensor system, including a $400,000 helmet. The helmet displays all flight data on its visor, allowing pilots to fly without glancing down to read instruments. It also feeds streaming video from an array of six infrared cameras around the aircraft, providing a seamless 360-degree view.

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