Air Force Flying New Fighter Prototype

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The U.S. Air Force is testing a new fighter jet prototype designed and built under its Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. The mystery aircraft has already been flown, although it has not been made public how many prototypes have been built or how much flight time the design has accrued. Details about the fighter’s potential performance and capabilities are also being kept classified.

“We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it,” Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper told Defense News. “We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”

It has been reported that the demonstrator was engineered and tested digitally before the physical prototype was constructed, allowing the design to take flight much more quickly than seen with previous fighter programs. NGAD funding for fiscal year 2021 comes in at around $1 billion. How a sixth-generation fighter program might affect fifth-generation jets like the F-35 is not yet clear.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. We are already spending hundreds of billions on the F35 which has dubious value. Why this? It is clear the plane we truly need is a single engine turboprop armed with machine guns and missiles. Why are we using $250 million dollar planes with missiles that cost $100,000 or more to take out $15,000 Toyota pickup trucks? We are not going to a conventional war with China or anyone else. If god forbid there is a war it will be over in a half hour and most of the planet will be dead. No need for planes.

  2. I swear I’ve seen that plane before: why, it’s the SR-71 Blackbird, retrofitted with guns instead of cameras.
    Part of the military-industrial-prison complex reconnaissance recycling program, aka planned obsolescence
    for war and profit (not necessarily in that bureaucratic order). Or as those flying aces of yesteryear, John
    Lennon and Paul McCartney, whispered in my ear: “Blackbird bombing in the dead of night/take these old
    spare parts and make a buck/all your life/you were only waiting for this contract to arrive.” And so it goes.

    • I swear I’ve seen that slinky radar gown before: why, it’s
      SR-71 Blackbird, retrofitted with guns instead of cameras.
      Part of the military-industrial-prison complex
      reconnaissance recycling program, aka planned
      obsolescence for war and profit (not necessarily
      in that bureaucratic order). Or as those flying aces
      of yesteryear, John Lennon and Paul McCartney,
      whispered in my ear: “Blackbird bombing in the
      dead of night/take these old spare parts and make
      a buck/all your life/you were only waiting for this
      contract to arrive.” And so it goes, right down to
      the latest generation of feathered bids.

  3. No mention as to who the defense contractor is that built the new toy, but likely either Boeing or Lockheed. If Lockheed, then it is competing with its own baby, the F-35. If Boeing, I wonder if it will have an MCAS system? (Yeah, I know; snarky remark). In either case, we had better be sitting down when someone finally announces the price tag.

    The F-35 is pushing 20+ years old, so it is becoming technologically obsolete already. So, maybe this is the Air Force’s answer to the F-35’s retirement. I wonder if this new “wonder weapon” will have a human pilot or an autonomous system?

  4. I spent 15 1/2 years in uniform plus 12 more as a major contractor employee supporting flight test on and around Edwards AFB on major weapon systems. My point being I knew a few things both about flight test and what’s going on there. Although I’ve been gone a while, I follow things as in depth as I can in various ways.

    IMHO, the F-35 is somebody’s idea of a joke. Fighters are for — umm — air defense and dominance. These days, in order to get through the ground and airborne radars, stealth is an added requirement to ensure survivability. Stealth has become such a ‘buzz word’ to an extent that being stealthy seems to transcend usability and affordability and maintainability. Some of the comments here are — therefore — right on point. If an F-35 is going to be used in air dominance, it has to be able to shoot lots of missiles and bullets at the adversaries and NOT keep returning to Base to be rearmed. But if all of that is stuffed internally, there’s a physical limit to it’s capabilities. For example, along that line of thinking, the F-117A could only carry two 1,000 pound bombs internally. An F-35 can be flown “dirty,” but then it gives up its stealth capabilities. A fighter jet without weapons is as good as a gun without bullets. The USAF disposed of the F-117A in order to get the F-35 and made a BIG mistake, IMHO.

    Someone at the very top decided that the F-35 was going to be the Swiss Army Knife of airplanes and totally forgot about the McNamara / TFX fiasco of the 60’s. So beyond even stealth, the darned thing has to be able to crash into carrier decks for the Navy, rise vertically from among the trees for the USMC and do all manner of wiz-bang jobs for the highly technical USAF. NONE of the three services (plus our Allies) got anything near what they thought it was going to because common design requirements were SO detrimental. They have a pretty sweet Aero Club, though. You won’t find many officers willing to say that but — I have. Among them is a General. At Airventure a few years ago, I confronted two officers sent to put on a Dog and Pony show for the F-35 about why certain weapons had not yet been integrated into the airplane. You shoulda seen the shocked look on a Captain’s face as he looked to his Major to get him out of it. And we haven’t even addressed the fact that the KC-46A isn’t doing ITS job yet and so range and loiter time is a problem, too. Bottom line, the F-35 is a piece of you know what. Any time you ask an airplane to do all sorts of missions … it does few jobs well.

    Beyond the above, there’s another problem. Flight testing has become an end unto itself anymore. There are hoards of people who are employed doing just that and reporting on same and they don’t have anything to do if they’re efficient and get the job done fast. Now toss on the requirement to constantly keep upgrading the systems aboard these airplanes and you have a major problem. We’da never won WWII in THIS sort of environment.

    I see now where the USAF Special Ops wants to replace the CV-22 with a pure jet. They just GOT those things. The USAF is now building F-15EX — a modernized Eagle — because it’s a darned good airplane and can be made better. I remember passing St Louis in 1969 when it was announced over AM radio that McDonnell Aircraft had won that program and now — 50 years later — they’re going to build new ones. Why? Because the Eagle was a dedicated air dominance fighter — that has never been shot down — and was dedicated to a single mission.

    In the early 80’s, a close air support turboprop airplane was forced upon the USAF for evaluation by a Florida Congressman. It was — essentially — a P-51 with a turboprop. The USAF was SO against it that they never established a formal Test Force at Edwards AFB for it … they just gave them to the Test Pilot School and told them to do some reports. You couldn’t pry the pilots out of the things. John M’s comment is — therefore — apropos. I always felt that they shoulda built those things by the thousands and made every 10th person entering the USAF a pilot of one with the others for support roles. An extreme example but … none the less true. These days, the F-16 might be a better example.

    So THIS airplane — the NGAD fighter — is likely a reaction to the fact that the F-35 just isn’t gonna do it for us but no one is willing to actually SAY it. I say … cancel that program and move on. Re-start the F-22 line, as well. When you need stealth, us it or this NGAD airplane and build more new F-15’s and F-16’s.

    • Forgot … when the (then, General Dynamics) YF-16 was vying with the (Northrop) YF-17 in the early 70’s, the Joint Test Force was named the Lightweight Fighter Joint Test Force (LWF JTF). The chosen airplane was going to be built in droves. The F-16 won that competition but the USAF took the plans for the F-17 away from Northrop, gave them to McDonnell Douglas and out popped the F-18 with Northrop as a major structures sub-contractor. The LWF was supposed to be a light weight, low cost airplane and was. When the Navy got the F-17 cum F-18, they loaded it down to the point where it had to be redesigned and became the “Rhino” F-18 E/F. The USAF doesn’t fly the F-18 and the Navy doesn’t fly the F-16 for a reason.

      And the P-51 look alike turbo-prop fighter never even got a name. They slapped an “N” number on them and called them the PA-48 “Enforcer.” John M’s idea personified.
      See: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piper_PA-48_Enforcer
      Pay attention to all the under wing hard points on that airplane!

      Now that I think about it some more, the F-5G turned into the F-20, the USAF didn’t like it so no one bought any and … that was that, too. Chuck Yeager sold a lot of AC Delco oil filters with one behind him, tho.