Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The aircraft behind the fuss

If you follow aerospace news, you know that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is being assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., as part of that base's mission to serve as a joint training center. You also know residents of Valparaiso are concerned about the noise.

So what is this aircraft that's causing this concern?

The F-35, designated "Lightning II," is built by Lockheed Martin with partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. It's a classic sample of how aerospace companies work together to create a weapon system to sell to the Pentagon and foreign nations.

The F-35 is a single-seat, single-engine stealth-capable multi-role fighter designed for close air support, tactical bombing and air superiority missions. There are three models: conventional takeoff and landings, a vertical takeoff and landing variant and a carrier model.

One of the most notable features of the F-35 is its development is a multinational effort. Funded mainly by the United States, other partners are the United Kingdom, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Norway and Denmark. During the Farnborough International Air Show in July, F-35 team members emphasized the importance of the international partnership, and a presentation used the theme "Global Team, Global Commitment, Global Value."

The more far-reaching story has nothing to do with the noise concerns at Valparaiso, but rather, what nations will change their minds about buying the F-35? It once appeared that the F-35 had no real competitor. But some nations that seemed naturals to buy the F-35 are now weighing other options, including an upgraded Saab Gripen built in Sweden. One report said defense officials in the Netherlands were pressured to look at alternatives by those swayed by Sweden's "buy from your neighbor" pitch.

Obviously, the global economy has a long way to go.

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