Test Flying The F-35: Interview With Monessa ‘Siren’ Balzhiser

F-35 test pilot


F-35 test pilot
Monessa “Siren” Balzhiser. (All pictures credit score: Lockheed Martin, except in any other case said)

We talked concerning the F-35’s present and future capabilities; variations with the F-16 within the SEAD and CAS missions; and way more, with Lockheed Martin’s check pilot Monessa “Siren” Balzhiser.

Graduated from the USA Air Drive Academy in 2004, Monessa Balzhiser is the primary feminine manufacturing and coaching pilot for Lockheed Martin, flying each the F-35 and F-16 plane. She joined Lockheed Martin in 2018, after 12 years as an officer and F-16 Teacher Pilot within the U.S. Air Drive and 1,800 flight hours (together with 320 in fight) beneath her belt. In her present place, amongst many different issues, she flies the F-35 for manufacturing assist and acceptance flights and likewise supplies programmatic and technical assist for all F-16 and F-35 associated airworthiness and mission readiness requirements.

We had the prospect to satisfy and interview “Siren” at Pratica di Mare Air Base, in the course of the Italian Air Force’s 100th Anniversary airshow, to study extra about her job and the F-35.

“Siren” prepares for a mission aboard an F-35.

Monessa, are you able to inform us what’s the function of an F-35 check pilot?

As Lockheed Martin F-35 check pilot we carry out a wide range of duties for the Firm, however our major job entails being the primary individual to fly the jet as soon as it comes out the manufacturing line. We check each the automobile methods, which incorporates the facility technology, the cooling system, flight controls, gear, in addition to the mission methods, which incorporates shows, sensors and weapons, to make sure that the F-35 is secure and that we’re producing a top quality system earlier than truly signing off the jet or handing it to our authorities counterparts to purchase off the jet.
Along with flying the F-35, plenty of the F-35 firm pilots additionally assist in different places, as moreover Fort Value, we even have manufacturing traces in Italy and Japan. And we help with plenty of the engineering options and airworthy necessities for a number of enterprise areas relying on what the client wants are.

Contemplating that the plane is now in service with many countries and has additionally grown some fight expertise, what sort of testing is required on the platform?

As to the plane being now in service and having grown some fight expertise, I can say that, as we attain the one thousandth F-35 to be delivered, Lockheed Martin is consistently in search of methods to enhance the jet. We’re persevering with to see threats evolve at a speedy tempo, so innovating to equip the F-35 with the most recent and most superior capabilities is admittedly vital to staying forward of these threats. And any form of sort of testing that’s required on that platform is finished to enhance plenty of what’s already a succesful system.

A few of the latest checks embody weapons integration, upgrades, sensors and capabilities particular to Expertise Refresh 3, or TR3, geared toward making certain that the F-35 can assure safety by the twenty first century. We’re always working for the plane to stay related not just for right now’s battle, but in addition for future fights to return.

F-35A at night time (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Picture by Angel DelCueto)

In your opinion, how a lot of the F-35’s potential are we seeing/utilizing to this point? Are we nonetheless far-off from unlocking its full potential?

For my part, I do suppose we’re utilizing the F-35 to its unimaginable full potential, however that basically does rely upon how every nation is using the jet the best way it must be for the safety and deterrence of the threats that our prospects are dealing with.

I not fly operationally, however I’ve talked with a number of F-35 pilots and prospects. They’re very amazed at what this jet can do already. And now with TR3 developing, for these prospects which can be getting that refresh, the F-35 potential is simply going to proceed to develop. So sure, we’re persevering with maximizing the capabilities of the F-35 and I don’t suppose we’re a great distance away from unlocking its full potential.

From a check pilot viewpoint, what are the primary variations between the three F-35 variants? How noticeable are the variations between the three variants when it comes to dealing with, efficiency, and many others?

The primary variations between the F-35 variants – the A, the B and the C – are principally seen with the automobile methods of the jet. A variety of the mission methods contained in the jet, together with what we see simply trying contained in the cockpit, apart from only a few switches, are fairly the identical from the pilot’s viewpoint.

A few of the automobile system variations embody, for instance, that the A and C mannequin do carry extra gas than the B mannequin. Subsequently, they’ve an extended vary functionality. The vary is bigger than about 1200 nautical miles for the A and the C mannequin with inside gas, whereas the B mannequin does better than about 900 miles. Additionally, the A mannequin is the one variant with an inside gun. Nonetheless, we are able to use exterior weapons with the opposite variants. The and the C mannequin do have a bigger weapons payload of 18,000 kilos, whereas the B mannequin can solely actually carry 15,000 kilos.

By way of flying, I solely fly the A mannequin, so speaking with the opposite pilots who’re certified in all three variants, there are very minor variations in terms of dealing with, however performance-wise all of them have the identical capabilities. Clearly the one factor that’s noticeable when coping with the A, the B and the C variants is that whereas the A is our most prevalent jet that’s used on the market, the B mannequin is the one that may hoover and the C mannequin has 8 foot wingspan, bigger than the A and the B. So, from a efficiency standpoint and a dealing with standpoint, the C mannequin usually does a bit of bit higher from glide ratio simply because it has longer, bigger wings.

F-35 test pilot
Monessa “Siren” Balzhiser.

We regularly discuss datalinks, AI, Machine Studying, human-machine interface once we analyse the F-35, is there any data within the fields of Data Expertise required to fly and check the F-35 in comparison with earlier technology plane?

Pilots aren’t required to have particular data within the fields of Data Expertise (IT) earlier than flying or testing the F-35 with reference to datalink, AI, Machine studying, or Human-Machine interface. When the F-35 has an improve or replace within the methods involving IT, the pilots work intently with our Flight Check group and engineers to make sure we’re ready with the background info and mandatory checklists wanted to check the methods. We’ve got additionally seen profitable integration of “AI-like” upgrades, comparable to Automated Ground Collision Avoidance System (AGCAS), over a number of Lockheed Martin platforms. AGCAS began within the F-16 and proved to be vital to saving pilots’ lives resulting in the mixing of AGCAS into the F-35 sooner than scheduled. We’re persevering with to combine new applied sciences and capabilities into the F-35 to outpace rising threats, and pilots are always collaborating with the engineers and builders to make sure a secure and efficient product.

Are you able to clarify one thing concerning the F-35’s EW/ESM capabilities in comparison with 4th gen platforms? Are they sufficient to undertake the SEAD mission and the place we’re at with the mixing of the AARGM-ER?

The F-35 EW functionality, digital warfare functionality, is a key perform enabling pilots to function utilizing sensor fusion. The F-35’s superior sensor suite, which in comparison with the F-16 is way more superior due to how sensor fusion integrates within the digital warfare system, permits the F-35 to find and monitor enemy forces jam radars and actually disrupt assaults. Furthermore, it offers pilots that 360 diploma missile warning functionality in a really correct excessive constancy means utilizing sensor fusion together with the DAS system, or the Distributed Aperture System.

When evaluating the F-35 to flying 4th technology plane, clearly stealth performs a giant half, it actually is without doubt one of the huge options of fifth technology functionality, but it surely additionally performs a giant half in EW.

As to the SEAD mission and the mixing of the AARGM-ER, many pilots have talked about that techniques for SEAD missions are altering simply due to what the F-35 is ready to do. It could actually go farther into threatened places the place 4th technology plane couldn’t. So that may be a huge enhancement and a giant tactical change in mindset for the way among the prospects that we now have talked to are utilizing this plane in among the SEAD missions. Because of the mixing and interoperability with 4th technology plane, the fifth technology plane can improve the legacy plane capabilities by passing the info that they can get into areas the place 4th technology plane can’t.

We’re nonetheless at the moment within the testing and integration part for the AARGM-ER, and I’ve been instructed that testing has been going effectively and can proceed to take action to make sure that we offer that high quality product with the jet and the missile.

Are you able to briefly clarify how is a CAS sortie flown by the F-35 completely different from one flown by the Viper? Has the F-35 offered the chance to “unlock” a brand new CAS doctrine? And what about different mission varieties?

Objectively, you could have the identical strategic mission aims going out for Close Air Support, however it’s barely completely different between the F-35 and the F-16. A variety of the CAS missions that I’ve beforehand flown in fight with the F-16 had been in very low menace environments, no air-to-air sort of threats or plane flying close to us. So we centered primarily on simply air-to-ground techniques. And what the F-35 supplies, as I had beforehand talked about, is that whereas it could actually nonetheless do plenty of the air-to-ground techniques {that a} F-16 will do with respect to shut air assist, now we’re additionally ready to try this in greater menace places primarily based off the principles of engagement and clearly that is what the client needs to do with the F-35 in terms of the nearer assist doctrine.

As to the chance to unlock a brand new CAS doctrine, I’d need to say that will be depending on our prospects and the way they operationally do the mission for shut air assist and what they’re using the jet for. As I discussed, the F-35’s capabilities enable them to do much more issues than legacy plane in excessive menace places, primarily due to its stealth and sensor fusion and superior sensor suites, in addition to inside weapons. Whether or not they’re altering their CAS doctrine or not is as much as the nation and our prospects. Nonetheless, the F-35’s functionality is unquestionably greater than what I beforehand flew within the F-16.

Clearly there’s different mission varieties that every buyer is utilizing the F-35 for each in an offensive and defensive sort of tactical resolution. We’re seeing the F-35 being maximized to its potential of the capabilities it could actually supply; its Stealth functionality, the Excessive Constancy knowledge info that’s being despatched out not solely to different F-35s, however all throughout varied bases within the battlefield to incorporate air, land, sea, house, and cyber. It’s turning into a vital node in a position to have an effect on varied sorts of missions, and that’s the place I can see the F-35 actually altering techniques and offering a brand new alternative to unlock sure doctrines.

Given your expertise flying the F-35 and the F-16, has the parable that the F-35 is a poor dogfighter been busted? Do you suppose there’s nonetheless room for enchancment in that subject? And in the long run, is it even required contemplating the general capabilities of the plane?

For my expertise with flying the F-35 and the F-16, I do imagine that fantasy has been busted. One thing that I actually discovered stunning when flying the F-35 is its unimaginable means to maneuver at slower airspeeds than I’d have with the F-16.
The superior flight controls, in addition to its massive horizontal stabilizers within the again, allow it to actually simply fly at slower speeds and have full functionality of the flight controls to maneuver the nostril in methods and course that I used to be by no means in a position to do with the F-16. I believe this can be a nice functionality and a testomony to the maneuverability of the F-35.

The F-16 likes to go quicker or optimize its flip weight, so it’s a unique sort of dogfighting, however that doesn’t imply that the F-35 can’t dogfight… I’ve been astonished at how this jet can maneuver particularly at low speeds.
In case you ask me if there’s room for enchancment in that subject, in all honesty, I say it actually is determined by how our prospects are going to make use of the F-35.

F-35A maneuvering throughout Arctic Lightning Air Present in 2021 (Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company – Fort Value – Mikaela Maschmeier)

Ultimately, the F-35 is admittedly there to maximise stealth, to maximise knowledge hyperlink and sensor fusion, and offering that knowledge out to the remainder of the battlefield. It’s extremely maneuverable and might dogfight. It could actually fly actually far out past visible vary gathering knowledge and inserting itself into excessive menace areas, the place low observability is vital in survivability, in addition to lethality, and is ready to make use of weapons the place wanted and the place earlier 4th technology fighters weren’t in a position to.

Thanks rather a lot in your time “Siren”!

David Cenciotti is a journalist primarily based in Rome, Italy. He’s the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of many world’s most well-known and browse army aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for main worldwide magazines, together with Air Forces Month-to-month, Fight Plane, and plenty of others, protecting aviation, protection, struggle, business, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown a number of fight planes with completely different air forces. He’s a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Drive, a personal pilot and a graduate in Pc Engineering. He has written 5 books and contributed to many extra ones.


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