Tailhook Troublesome For Stealth Fighter

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The tailhook might seem like a mature bit of technology for airplanes -- it's been in use for more than 100 years -- but Lockheed Martin is finding it a challenge to get the tailhook to work right on its high-tech F-35C Joint Strike Fighter stealth aircraft. A recent Defense Department report (PDF) about the test program said that during simulated carrier landings at Lakehurst, N.J., last year, the test aircraft "could not engage the arrestment cable. Resolution of these deficiencies is needed for testing to support F-35C ship trials in late 2013." A Lockheed official, Tom Burbage, told the NavyTimes that a new design for the tailhook is already in the works and will be tested at Lakehurst in the second quarter of this year, with plenty of time to iron out the problem before sea trials begin.

Burbage said one problem with the F-35C is that as the Navy's first stealth fighter, it's the first that had to be designed with a tailhook that can be concealed. As a result, the hook is placed closer to the main landing gear than on a conventional aircraft. Thus the time between when the main gear rolls over the cable and when the hook picks it up is shorter, and is there is less time for the cable's reaction to dampen. The shape of the hook is being redesigned to improve its performance, Burbage said. The rest of the design of the tailhook system, including the doors and a bay that conceal the hook, have proven to work, he said.