Satchel wasn’t a fighter pilot

“Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.”

Satchel Paige, the famous pitcher and Baseball Hall of Fame member, said that. Funny statement from a ground pounder.

Not so humorous for a fighter pilot. What might be gaining on a fighter pilot is something that wants to kill him.
“Check six” means look behind you. Frequently. The pilot in the cockpit with the adversary in front of him will be the victor, the one with the adversary or the missile behind him will be the victim. Always.

The F-35 Lightning II has more problems, besides the MSRP.  “Check six” is an issue.

Aside from the smile generated when reading that the Lightning has problems with lightning, the visibility thing is serious. Here’s a look at what the issue is:


F-16 Cockpit looking aft


F-18 Cockpit looking aft

Turn around and look behind you in either of these fighters and what do you see? Everything!

Now take a look at some other cockpits.


Here’s a couple of Aussie pilots in their F-111. The F-111 was at one time a candidate for the U.S. Navy as a fighter.

Note the rearward visibility in the F-111. Nil. Zilch. Bulkhead. Thank goodness the Navy had some sense and dumped the F-111 as a fighter and opted for the F-14.

Here’s a rearward looking photo in an F-14. Note that the carrier cannot sneak up on the Tomcat easily.


How does the F-35 stack up?


Hmmm. Another bulkhead behind the pilot, just like the F-111.

The Pentagon report included this sentence: “Unlike legacy aircraft such as the F-15, F-16, and F/A-18, enhanced cockpit visibility was not designed into the F-35.”

This is where I ran out of words and simply sighed.


Filed under Aeronautical Engineering, Airplanes, Flying, Naval Aviation, Uncategorized

16 responses to “Satchel wasn’t a fighter pilot

  1. Even I, made my living from an DC7, which was like having a VW bug
    grafted on to the Holland Tunnel the flying the cobination from the back seat of the bug, Can see the problem. “legacy” is not a good word to use…

  2. Steve

    I’m no F-35 booster, but it must be noted that the rear visibility out of the F-35A and F-35C models is considerably better than on the pictured F-35B.

    The F-35 has systems which project external imagery onto the pilot’s vision, so a fanboy will tell you rear visibility isn’t necessary, but I’m not reassured — if it isn’t necessary, why is it designed into the A and C in the first place?

    Along those lines, I simply can’t believe the Marines approved a fighter aircraft that doesn’t have a gun. Yes, there’s a gun pod, but the day will come when an F-35B pilot needs a gun and for whatever reason it wasn’t strapped on. A pod is drag and weight and increased radar cross section, so no doubt it will sometimes be left behind.

    Bad rear vis and no gun — I am stunned at how quickly the hard won lessons of Vietnam have been cast aside.

    • F-35C Catapult Launch Testing
      A good look at the F-35C, the Navy version, here. I’m with you, not reassured one bit.

    • Steve

      Yeah — if pilots are already complaining about rear visibility in the A model, the Marines flying the B are going to be extra ticked.

  3. Bill Brandt

    I wonder, when this plane was in the conceptual stage, if any pilots were asked for their opinions.

  4. Old AF Sarge

    Regarding the title of this post “Satchel wasn’t a fighter pilot”, obviously neither were the people who designed this, this, thing!

    And what Steve said regarding forgetting lessons from Vietnam, to the people pimping these concepts and designs you might as well be talking about the Civil War!

    I doubt they’ve read George Santayana either! (Those who forget the past…)

    Great post Busbob!

  5. Bill Brandt

    You guys would be more knowledgeable on the F4 Phantom than me – but didn’t that plane initially come with only missiles? And the Navy and Air Forced realized quickly they needed a gun in North Vietnam? – and the little MiG 17s (and 21?) were outmaneuvering them in close dog fights?

    The F16 is – at least airframe and engine – a model of simplicity and came about (along with the FA-18) as a result of the Vietnam experience. That was an interesting post Lex had on the history of the FA-18 – which was the losing competitor to the competition that the F16 won –

    Busbob I am sure that you are articulating what every active duty fighter pilot is thinking – but obviously can’t say aloud.

    • Steve

      You’re correct Bill, the F-4 originally lacked a gun.

      I also think it’s instructive that while there have been plenty of attempts at interservice aircraft, only the F-4 could be called successful. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the Navy drove that design. Wonder what the F-35 would look like if the Navy had been given the reigns again, but something tells me it would have good rear vis, more range, two engines, supercruise, a bigger internal weapons bay, an arresting hook which would have worked right the first time and would probably cost something closer to what the Super Hornet does. The Air Force coulda stuck their own refueling gear on it and called it good. The Marines? They’d have had to give up on the fantasy of plunking a $120 million aircraft down on a dirt field within rocketing distance of insurgents, which never made much sense to me to begin with.

    • Old AF Sarge

      The first Phantoms used by the Air Force (both models I used to work on FWIW) the F-4C and the F-4D did not have an internal gun. Missiles only. Of the two missiles, one was a heat seeker (AIM-9) the other was radar guided (AIM-7).

      The aircrews didn’t really care for the AIM-7 because you had to stay locked on to the target (keep your nose pointed at the bad guy) for the missile to track and kill the target. So in other words, you had to stay pointed at the target for the entire engagement! And that’s for when the missile would come off the jet cleanly and actually guide. Some of the earlier variants of the AIM-7 did not function all that well.

      Aircrews preferred the AIM-9 because it was “fire and forget”. Once the seeker head was locked onto the heat source (target) the pilot would get a steady aural tone, then could pull the trigger. Once the missile was away you could maneuver your aircraft. The missile tracked on its own.

      These models of the F-4 could be loaded with a 20mm Gatling-type gun on the centerline station. Of course that did not help with the jet’s agility, what little it had compared to the smaller MIGs.

      The later variant of the Phantom, the F-4E, had an internal gun and vastly improved electronics (solid state versus vacuum tubes on the C and D models.)

      The F-16 is a beautiful little bird, highly maneuverable and it kicks ass. IIRC one thing that always kind of surprised me is that in the early days when they first had them, the Israelis used their F-16s to haul bombs and their F-15s to fly top cover. Someone can correct me on that if I’m wrong.

      Though I am very Air Force-centric (as you might imagine) and love the F-15 and the F-16, my son–in-law flies the Super Hornet (Rhino to those who know) and my daughter is a WSO in the Rhino. The Rhino is an extremely capable aircraft for which I have a great fondness.

      Always remember though: a good pilot in a mediocre aircraft will beat a bad pilot in a superior aircraft nearly every time. It’s the human at the controls that is the REAL difference.

  6. Bill Brandt

    I believe that there is almost an inverse relationship between the amount of bureaucracy and chefs and the quality of the plane or missile.

    Look at the P51 Mustang – just started as a side project of North American Aviation because they couldn’t supply the British with all the planes they wanted (the P40?) From idea to prototype in 6 months. 9admitedly it took the British to add the Merlin to make it the plane it became) .

    Or look at the Sidewinder missile – if I remember correctly largely in its inception an “off the books” project developed by a core group of engineers and volunteers at China Lake. In service in 1956, still in use today as far as i know.

    You get so many chefs in the room and you end up with mediocrity.

    A similar analogy I read somewhere that virtually all of the cars you would consider to be iconic – Porsche 911, Mercedes-Benz 300SL, Corvette, all had in their inception 1 champion, an engineer who thought “ This is the say it should be

    Which is why the Skunk Works was so successful.

    The F35’s basic problem, it seems to me, is that Lockheed in selling it designed it to be all things to all the services – with the result for any one service it doesn’t do its mission particularly well, but perhaps “good enough” – which, regrettably only under the crucible of actual combat – would the truth become known.

    Range too short (for the Navy and I believe the Air Force) – fuselage too short for optimal carrier landings. No rearward visibility (as Busbub has mentioned)

    On and on.

    And as Steve mentioned would the Marines really risk this aircraft landing when it could be taken out by an RPG?

    (talk about value-for-the-dollar in weapons cost)

    • Paul L. Quandt


      The F35’s basic problem is that it’s a Lockheed aircraft. I say that as a former Lockheed C-141 crew chief.


  7. A business friend was fond of the phrase “synergy costs money.”

    The same thing probably applies to weapons systems.

  8. Bill Brandt

    Paul – you have to admit Lockheed has made some pretty good aircraft over the years – P38 – SR-71 – U2 – C5A – F22 – F104 – but I was also thinking in the WW2-Cold War era Grumman and the Navy were pretty tight.

    I’ll bet during the bids more than a few Admirals made sure Grumman had the inside track.


    Because over the years Grumman learned what was important to the Navy. They had relationships. The 2 exceptions to this were the McDonnell F4 Phantom and the Northrup FA-18 – although didn’t Grumman and Northrup merge when this was selected? As an aside it would be interesting to know the bidding history when the F4 Phantom was selected – did Grumman have a competitor?)

    The F4 Phantom I believe is the only non-Grumman (in the Navy) in recent history that really achieved iconic status.

    Well now that I think of it there was the Vought F4U Corsair, although it had a rocky start on the carriers I think,. No denying its kill ratio with the Japanese.

    I can’t even keep track of the players anymore.

    Between Boeing and Lockheed all the others swallowed up. (or down 😉 ). So many layed off in “downsizing”.

    I am sure there are no more relationships – all lowest bidder and who can present the best sales pitch.

  9. Pingback: Toad ja so… | The Lexicans

  10. Where to start…The F-4 is the descendent of McDonnell jets from the 1950s (Banshees, Phantoms, Demons, etc) and there was a relationship with the Navy. Grumman of course F6F, F7F, F8F, F9F, F11F, then F-14. The F-111 was a DoD airplane, not a Navy one, and the F-111B version that was supposed to operate from a carrier was unsuitable. There should be a bunch of flight test reports at Pax River on that thing, and the last F-111B was in pieces at the museum there years ago. Vought in it’s various forms with the Cutlass, Crusader and Corsair II.
    The Vietnam era fighters. Air Force F-100, F-101, F-105, F-4, to a certain extent F-111 and T-38/F-5s. Also Air Force A-1s and A-7s. Which ones started life as Navy aircraft? Which Navy aircraft started life as Air Force aircraft? ….crickets…. Right. Much easier to take a carrier based aircraft and turn it into a land based aircraft than vice versa…..never really has been done successfully.

    In the new fighter competition the DoD officiated at a shotgun wedding of the Air Force and the Navy. There was a set of requirements for each service and the GD F-16 and Northrop F-17 resulted in the F-16 for the Air Force… a great day VFR dogfighter that wasn’t really carrier suitable or susceptible to being made suitable, and with only one engine. So the F-17 became the F-18 built by McDonnell Douglas then F/A-18 to standardize the fighter attack aircraft in the CV air wing.

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