Politics
Test pilot raves about F-35

A U.S. Marine F-35B Joint Strike fighter jet.

Credits: REUTERS

DANIEL PROUSSALIDIS | QMI AGENCY

OTTAWA - Back in his native Ottawa, a Lockheed-Martin test pilot, board member and former Canadian air force colonel is talking up the F-35 stealth fighter.

"What the F-35 has is more manoeuvrability than I ever had in the CF-18 as an air show pilot," Billie Flynn told QMI Agency.

Flynn said he has flown dozens of different planes, including taking the CF-18 into combat in Kosovo and testing the Eurofighter Typhoon.

He said nothing compares to the F-35s he tests weekly in Texas.

"I'm dramatically more lethal than I ever was in those fourth-generation airplanes," Flynn said.

While Flynn said it's important that the stealthy F-35 can often sneak up on enemies, he appreciates the jet's interoperability and that its sensors have a greater range than other fighters.

"Sensor fusion finds all that information, controls those sensors, tells me what's there and then it passes on that information to everyone else in my network," he said.

Canada is re-evaluating how it will replace a CF-18 fleet that is reaching the end of its lifespan.

The F-35 had been the fighter of choice for the federal government, but a 2012 auditor general's report highly critical of how that decision was made forced the Conservatives to re-start the process.

Now the government is re-examining the F-35 and comparing it to Boeing's upgraded F-18 Super Hornet, the Dassault Rafale, Saab Gripen and the Typhoon.

For Lockheed Martin vice-president Stephen O'Bryan, that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

"In an open and transparent democracy, these are the open and transparent processes that you have, and we certainly will support that," he said.

While the feds decide if they'll stick with the F-35, testing and development of the jet continues.

O'Bryan insists if Canada ordered the F-35 this year, it would have its first "fully combat-capable" plane by 2016.

There have been problems in developing the millions of lines of software for the F-35, but O'Bryan said its 95% written today, with most of the programming already deployed on test planes.

One of the problems might have been espionage by Chinese hackers, stealing software and F-35 design details.

Lockheed Martin has always denied security breaches,
"With any crown jewel, we protect it as such," O'Bryan said.

If Canada bought the F-35, it's estimated a fleet of 65 jets would cost $46 billion over 42 years.

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