F-35 Pilot Reveals the Disappointing Truth About the Fighter’s Cockpit

Touchscreens, magic helmets, voice input... — the pilots don't want any of it

  • 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

  1. ken says

    “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.”

    What if you want both,,, say you’re running low on fuel, frantically swiping and poking trying to get the weapons system ready when an enemy plane appears? I guess you turn on the Klingon cloaking system?

    From my reading the F35 is a POS and a mechanical / electrical nightmare. Most pilots seem to prefer the F22. But of course the 35 brings more fedbucks to the manufacture and to those in the feedback loop in congress.

    And I haven’t read Pop-Mech since they told me that kerosene can melt heat treated steel, introduced the “pancake” theory,,, while ignoring WTC 7 implosion that was never hit by an airplane. Yep,,, more of that 21st century “science” we hear so much about today!

  2. yuri says

    besides well known flaws this suggests in actual performance pilots lack confidence in operation

  3. L Garou says

    Soon enough A.I. will make all the fighter pilots into Captain Dunsel..

  4. Eddy says

    Loved the comment regarding Popular Mech, spot on.

  5. David H Mende says

    To win a ‘War’ we need a Sea-Air-Land UW vehicle.
    It flies, highway/off road drives, on water and underwater transit.
    I have the plans. Please send $1Billion dollars.

  6. Darkwing says

    This plane was a failed from the very start. I work at an air base and they told us we would have the F 35 by 1995, to date one is sitting in a hanger and guarded.

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