Super Fighter Arrives At Last On A Wing And A Prayer

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Written By Mohsen Salami

Britain’s new super fighter has hit the skies for a round of media relations to coincide with the Farnborough Air Show – but is the plane a hit or a flop?

The answer seems to depend on who you ask.

Of course the RAF and test pilots claim the F-35 Lightning stealth fighter is a dream to fly and can knock an enemy plane out of the sky before the radar has identified a threat.

But the Lightning is years behind schedule and has suffered a series of mechanical and technology breakdowns.

The RAF even hints the fighter has more advanced capabilities than everyone realises, but details of this know-how are firmly under wraps.

What makes the F-35 so good?

Developed for the US Air Force, the Lightning comes in three flavours – the A,B and C.

All are single seat fighters that can pull up to 1,120 mph or 1.6 mach, with an 833 kilometre combat radius and an altitude of 15 kms.

The fighter is literally a deck with an engine designed to rain a huge payload of laser-guided air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and bombs on the enemy. The Lightning also carries 25mm cannon and exterior mounted fuel tanks for extra range.

With advanced on-board computers and ‘stealth’ construction, the Lightning is said to be invisible to enemy radar.

The A is the standard model, the B has a fan mounted behind the cockpit that give the jet the vertical take-off and hover capabilities of the Harrier jump jet, while the C is adapted for aircraft carriers.

The RAF is taking delivery of more than 140 of the fighters for the RAF and the Navy’s two new carriers that are under construction.

What makes the F-35 so bad?

The cost – an eye-watering $251 million for a fully-equipped top of the range fighter.

The Lightning was supposed to arrive at the 2014 Farnborough show, but the fleet was grounded due to an engine fire.

The program is around five-years late and above budget, throwing doubt on reliability. With a planned life until 2070, that could cause some problems in the future.

Some pilots claim the jet is poor to manoeuvre in battle conditions – but others argue that as a stealth fighter, the Lightning can intercept and shoot down the enemy without ever needing to take part in a dog fight.