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USAF General Fuels F-35 Debate

An F-35 that was on display for Canadian media at the Lockheed Martin plant in Texas last week was delivered to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona this week.
An F-35 that was on display for Canadian media at the Lockheed Martin plant in Texas last week was delivered to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona this week.

A top U.S. Air Force general says he will “fight to the death” to ensure the U.S. Air Force buys enough F-35 fighters but at the same time Gen. Michael Hostage appeared to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Joint Strike Fighter.

His controversial comments came as Canada’s federal government appears poised to decide the F-35’s fate as Canada’s next front-line fighter.

.In an interview published in February by Air Force Times,  Gen. Michael Hostage, the commander of USAF’s Air Combat Command  in charge of the Air Force’s fighter fleet, called the F-35 “irrelevant” without the support of F-22 Raptors.

“If I do not keep that F-22 fleet viable, the F-35 fleet frankly will be irrelevant. The F-35 is not built as an air superiority platform,” he told the Times. “It needs the F-22. Because I got such a pitifully tiny fleet, I’ve got to ensure I will have every single one of those F-22s as capable as it possibly can be.”

The comment was seized upon by Canadian media as the federal government considers an internal report on whether to continue as a sole source partner in the JSF program or to allow open competition for the next Canadian fighter. The fundamental difference is that the F-35 is the only so-called fifth generation fighter (with advanced sensors and stealth technology) in the battle and the FA-18, Typhoon and Rafale are considered fourth generation fighters.

But while Hostage seems to suggest the F-35 is the F-22’s weak sister, he also said the F-35 is an absolute requirement for USAF to meet a coming threat from “adversaries” who are developing fifth generation jets of their own.

“I am going to fight to the death to protect the F-35 because I truly believe the only way we will make it through the next decade is with a sufficient fleet of F-35s, he said. “If you gave me all the money I needed to refurbish the F-15 and the F-16 fleets, they would still become tactically obsolete by the middle of the next decade. Our adversaries are building fleets that will overmatch our legacy fleet, no matter what I do, by the middle of the next decade.”

Lockheed Martin, which built the F-22 (production ended at 168 aircraft) and is now building the F-35. hosted Canadian media, including Canadian Aviator Editor Russ Niles, at a day-long briefing on the aircraft and the Canadian involvement in early March and defended its ability as a fighter.

It was noted that the F-35 has won all 13 fighter competitions it has entered in the last couple of years. Although its flight performance envelope is similar to all other modern fighters, the Lockheed officials stressed the fifth generation electronics and stealth as its big advantages, suggesting it could destroy its adversaries long before they see the F-35.

At the Canadian media briefing (three reporters, including Canadian Aviator attended) Lockheed Martin officials said the F-35 builds on the technology developed for the F-22. But while the U.S. government is encouraging Lockheed Martin to sell the F-35 to virtually any country that is friendly to its interests, it refuses to allow the sale of the F-22 to anyone.

An airplane that was on display for the Canadian journalists at the Fort Worth plant was the first of a new squadron of F-35s to be delivered to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona earlier this week. Luke, which is now an F-16 base, will eventually have 144 of the F-35s.

Speedy New AULA Approved

The Blackshape Prime is now available in Canada

An Italian design that pushes the envelope for tiny airplanes has been approved by Transport Canada in the advanced ultralight category.

Aircite Aviation-Aviasport, based at the increasingly active Lachute Airport in Quebec, has been appointed the dealer for the Blackshape Prime, a slippery composite design that does the maximum that the restrictive AULA regs allow.  With a 100 horsepower Rotax 912, it will go 1,000 miles on a tank of gas on economy cruise (120 knots) and 650 miles at 150 knots. Maximum speed is about 200 knots.

The aircraft is actually more than 200 pounds lighter than the AULA maximum  and has a tandem configuration. Plans are in the works for a heavier version with a 115 horsepower engine to take advantage of the weight cushion both here and under U.S. Light Sport regs.

It comes with a variable pitch propeller, autopilot, parachute and glass panel and it costs $269,000.

Twin Otter Hunts For Flight 370

A Vietnam Navy Series 400 Twin Otter has been active in the search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.
A Vietnam Navy Series 400 Twin Otter has been active in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

It didn’t take long for the Vietnam Navy’s first Series 400 Twin Otter to see some high profile action.

The amphibious version of the new-build Twin Otter was among the first aircraft to search for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which was presumed to have been lost off Vietnam’s southwest coast early in the ongoing drama.

The amphib aircraft, which was built by Viking Aircraft of Victoria, was delivered in December. The crew flying the search missions were trained in Vancouver by Viking’s training affiliate Pacific Sky.

The crew aboard the navy’s Twin Otter took the photos of what were assumed to be crash wreckage in the area where contact was lost with the Boeing 777.

Viking said the aircraft “was selected by the Vietnam Navy for its ability to perform a multitude of roles, including maritime search and rescue,” Viking said in a news release.

Meanwhile Viking is celebrating completion of its 50th aircraft. Ironically, the aircraft is going to MASwings, a subsidiary of Malaysian Airlines. MASwings has ordered six of the aircraft.

Bombardier Freezes Aerospace Wages

Bombardier's CSeries airliner took its first flight Monday.
Development delays of the CSeries and the Learjet 85 are prompting tough measures at Bombardier.

Bombardier has frozen the wages of about half of its employees, clapped limits on travel and instituted various measures to conserve cash as the delays of a couple of high-profile development projects threaten to eat into its bottom line.

In an effort to insulate investors from the cost of years of delays in the CSeries and Learjet 85 programs, the company is doing everything it can to cut costs in the aerospace division. More than 38,000 employees, including those in the executive suite, are affected. The rest of its 76,400 employees are covered by contracts of one sort or another that dictate their pay.

“Meeting our profitability goals is a priority,” Bombardier spokeswoman Isabelle Rondeau said in an interview with the Bloomberg . “We’ve reached many milestones in the development of our new products, we have a substantial backlog, but now we have to deliver on our profit targets. That’s the context for these measures.”

The CSeries has missed several important deadlines and Bombardier has now stopped making promises other than that the aircraft will be a major leap in passenger/mile efficiency whenever it’s ready. The delays have pushed development costs up by more than $1 billion $4.4 billion (USD) and has enough orders (201) and options (another 200) to be profitable.

The Learjet 85 has been approved for its first test flight but, as far as can be determined, hasn’t flown yet. Both are composite aircraft and share some of the software and avionics issues that have dogged most such technological leaps.

Canadian Women Celebrate Aviation

VIP participants in the Women of Aviation Worldwide event in Lachute, QC get ready to board a Nolinor Convair.
VIP participants in the Women of Aviation Worldwide event in Lachute, QC board a Nolinor Convair.

At events all over the country last week, Canadian women aviators encouraged other women to consider aviation as a pastime or vocation.

It was Women of Aviation Worldwide Week, founded and led by Canadian Aviator columnist Mireille Goyer and the Canadian events, from B.C. to Quebec, were among celebrations and networking sessions held all over the world.

Mirabel and Lachute Airports in Quebec hosted events which included participation by Carole Pilon, Bombardier’s only female test pilot (for 13 years), Carol Pilon, a Gatineau wingwalker and Carol Ann Garrat, who has flown around the world three times.

Mirabel has the unique distinction of being the only airport in the world to formally acknowledge the first licensed female aviator, Raymonde de la Roche with a sign on the airport.  See more photos here.