Recently, the first non-test pilot was certified on the F-35A.
USAF Lt Col Lee Kloos, commander of the 58th Fighter Squadron, is the first non-test pilot to start his transition over to the stealthy fifth-generation machine. Kloos, a former 2000 hour F-16 pilot and Weapons School graduate, has already completed four out of six cadre checkout flights needed to qualify him to fly the F-35A.
Kloos has now finished all six qualification flights and is the first of a cadre of flight instructors who will help other pilots transition into F-35.
Kloos had some interesting things to say about the characteristics of the F-35 in comparison to the F-16:
The veteran F-16 operational tester and Weapons School grad shared some of his impressions the F-35. The jet is powerful, stable and easy to fly.
"One of the things this aircraft usually takes hit on is the handling because it's not an F-22," Kloos says. "An F-22 is unique in its ability to maneuver and we'll never be that."
But compared to other aircraft, a combat-configured F-35 probably edges out other existing designs carrying a similar load-out. "When I'm downrange in Badguyland that's the configuration I need to have confidence in maneuvering, and that's where I think the F-35 starts to edge out an aircraft like the F-16," Kloos says.
A combat-configured F-16 is encumbered with weapons, external fuel tanks, and electronic countermeasures pods that sap the jet's performance. "You put all that on, I'll take the F-35 as far as handling characteristic and performance, that's not to mention the tactical capabilities and advancements in stealth," he says. "It's of course way beyond what the F-16 has currently."
The F-35's acceleration is "very comparable" to a Block 50 F-16. "Again, if you cleaned off an F-16 and wanted to turn and maintain Gs and [turn] rates, then I think a clean F-16 would certainly outperform a loaded F-35," Kloos says. "But if you compared them at combat loadings, the F-35 I think would probably outperform it."
And, of course, it is with combat loading where the comparison should be made, since that’s the configuration that will go into “badguyland”, as Lt.Col Kloos calls it. It sort of puts a dagger in the heart of the argument critics like to use about the F-16s maneuverability and performance advantage. It’s coming from someone who knows the F-16 pretty intimately with over 2000 hours in the aircraft.
Before the critics try to twist that argument, Kloos adds a little ground truth to the debate:
The F-16, Kloos says, is a very capable aircraft in a within visual range engagement--especially in the lightly loaded air-to-air configuration used during training sorties at home station. "It's really good at performing in that kind of configuration," Kloos says. "But that's not a configuration that I've ever--I've been in a lot of different deployments--and those are the configurations I've never been in with weapons onboard."
So that’s certainly not the configuration by which the two aircraft should be compared. It is an apples to oranges comparison. Instead, it is a much better comparison with the usual configurations Kloos and other F-16 pilots used in combat. And in that configuration, per Kloos, the F-35 outperforms the F-16.
And that’s without even mentioning the stealth component.