Flying the F-35 stealth fighter can leave pilots looking 'like they are 100 years old,' says test pilot

  • Test pilots described how intense it is to fly an F-35, The Jerusalem Post reported.

  • "It's like an 800-pound gorilla sitting on your chest," a pilot said in a Lockheed Martin webinar.

  • "After some training, pilots come out looking like they are 100 years old," another pilot said.

A US test pilot described the challenges of flying one of the world's most advanced warplanes, the F-35 fighter jet, in a recent discussion in a webinar that Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the aircraft, organized.

Tony "Brick" Wilson, an F-35 test pilot for the American defense company who previously served in the US Navy, described the "g-force," or gravitational force, a pilot must deal with when flying the high-tech US fighter jets.

"It's like an 800-pound gorilla sitting on your chest," Wilson said earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The F-35 has a top speed of around Mach 1.6, or about 1,228 mph.

Aircraft-to-aircraft "dogfighting" is similar to a full-body workout, and Wilson said that, by the end, "you are wiped out."

Lockheed Martin's high-tech, fifth-generation multirole stealth aircraft is intended for air superiority and strike missions, Insider previously reported.

Monessa "Siren" Balzhiser, another F-35 test pilot for the company, also addressed g-forces in the discussion.

Balzhiser, who previously served in the US Air Force, said that an average roller coaster pulls about three to four g-forces.

"For a g-force, think about your weight. So if you were 100 pounds pulling nine g's, you would be pulling 900 pounds of force on a person's body. Imagine that much pressure on your body. It takes a lot of training and special training," Balzhiser said.

She added that following missions, "pilots come out looking like they are 100 years old."

F-35 jet fighter refuels mid-air.
F-35 jet fighter refuels mid-air.guvendemir/Getty Images

Wilson was later asked how far the jets could fly, according to The Jerusalem Post, and he described the different fuel levels available in each variant of the jet.

An F-35A carries about 18,000 pounds of fuel, the F-35B carries about 13,000 pounds of fuel, and the F-35C carries about 20,000 pounds of fuel, Wilson said.

He added that generally, on missions, pilots fly no more than about 500 to 700 nautical miles before executing a mission and traveling back to base.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the US Air Force deployed F-35 fighter jets to NATO's front line to patrol for Russian missiles that could threaten planes, Insider previously reported.

The F-35 joint strike fighter.
An F-35 taxis down the flight line.DVIDS

A multirole stealth aircraft, at least 17 airforces worldwide now fly the F-35.

It is equipped with a powerful electronic intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance suite. The capabilities, which allow the F-35 to gather and distribute real-time battlefield information to friendly forces, have earned it the nickname "the quarterback of the skies."

In the webinar, Balzhiser said what she most valued about the warplanes is "the amount of information and situational awareness that the F-35 gave me in comparison to the F-16."

"The F-16 has three separate screens and displays, with each screen tied to a specific sensor," she said, The Jerusalem Post reported. "The pilots needed to do sensor fusion in their brain to take the information, think about it, and come up with a solution. The F-35's large graphic display does that, provides that situational awareness faster than what I was able to do in the F-16."

The weaponry each F-35 is equipped with varies. In a configuration known as "beast mode," it carries four 500-pound GBU-12 laser-guided bombs on its wings, two GBU-12 in its internal weapons bay, and an AIM-9 air-to-air heat-seeking missile. That configuration sacrifices stealth for firepower, according to a 2022 Insider report.

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