1. Home
  2.  » 
  3. Commentary
  4.  » F-35 Pilot Reveals the Disappointing Truth About the Fighter’s Cockpit

“I haven’t met anyone who uses it,” the pilot says about one pointless feature.

Kyle Mizokami – Popular Mechanics Jan 26, 2021

  • An F-35 pilot says the Joint Strike Fighter’s cockpit is a technological wonder, using helmet-mounted displays, voice recognition tech, and touchscreens.
  • Unfortunately, while all of those features sound great in theory, in practice, they come up short.
  • At least one of the features is so useless, the pilot doesn’t know anyone who actually uses it.

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is probably the most advanced fighter jet flying today. The F-35, a.k.a. the “Panther,” is the first jet to use a number of new technologies designed to make it the most lethal and survivable warplane around. The problem? Some of those bells and whistles have landed with a resounding thud.

In an interview with the excellent aviation magazine Hush-Kit, an anonymous Panther pilot describes the F-35’s cockpit and interface system. The pilot says the cockpit itself is “beautiful,” full of screens that allow you to bring up an incredible amount of information about the fighter with just a few finger swipes, and customize the data to tailor it for the particular mission.

The F-35 is the first to use touchscreen technology. Unlike switches, which take up permanent cockpit space, touchscreens allow the same LCD screen space to be instantly repurposed. One minute, a display could be used to pull up data on an aircraft’s fuel reserves, and the next, it could help target an enemy position on a mountainside. That goes a long way toward simplifying the cockpit and not overwhelming a pilot with wall-to-wall physical switches, dials, and single-use displays.

But the problem with touchscreens, the pilot explains, is a lack of tactile feedback. Switches have a nice, satisfying click that instantaneously lets the user know they were successfully flipped. Almost everyone with a smartphone has touched a virtual button on a touchscreen, expected a result … and then nothing happens. The anonymous pilot reports failing to get a result from a touchscreen about 20 percent of the time:

At present I am pressing the wrong part of the screen about 20 [percent] of the time in flight due to either mis-identification, or more commonly by my finger getting jostled around in turbulence or under G. One of the biggest drawbacks is that you can’t brace your hand against anything whilst typing—think how much easier it is to type on a smartphone with your thumbs versus trying to stab at a virtual keyboard on a large tablet with just your index finger.

Other problems include the $400,000 custom-fitted “magic helmet”, which replaces the heads-up display (HUD) as well as sensor displays. The F-35 pilot believes old-fashioned HUDs are superior due to their ability to better display information without the need to “shrink” it to fit the helmet’s field of view. The voice recognition feature also apparently goes completely unused:

Voice input is another feature of the jet, but not one I have found to be useful. It may work well on the ground in a test rig, but under G in flight it’s not something I have found to work consistently enough to rely on. I haven’t met anyone who uses it.

Read about the F-35’s cockpit problems, as well as the pilot’s experiences flying the Panther compared to other aircraft, at Hush-Kit.

Source: Popular Mechanics