One can easily understand the excitement Tom Burbage has for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
After all, he was on the ground floor with Lockheed Martin when it secured the government contract to manufacture the aircraft.
The Lockheed Martin executive brought that enthusiasm with him when he spoke at the Eastern Carolina Aviation Heritage Foundation gala at the Havelock Tourist and Event Center.
We think his presentation was informative. He did a good job explaining the history of the Joint Strike Fighter program, its many international partners, the technological advancement in the aircraft and the reason he said it would be a valuable asset in the defense of this country for generations to come.
He also mentioned that an F-35 could be landing on Cherry Point’s runway this year, giving all a glimpse of what the future holds for the base.
We understand the importantance of the aircraft in the future of Cherry Point. After all, the F-35B version of the jet is scheduled to replace the AV-8B Harriers and EA-6B Prowlers that currently make up the majority of the fleet of Marine Corps planes currently at the base.
Still, we were a bit disappointed that Burbage appeared to gloss over — or not even mention — some of the problems associated with the aircraft.
To his credit, he did mention the recent grounding of the F-35B, after a fuel leak caused an aborted take-off. The grounding does make sense. Any problem with a new aircraft should be completely examined before it’s allowed to be put in the air, risking the lives of the pilots and perhaps even those on the ground.
Burbage mentioned the high-tech display helmets pilots flying the F-35 would use, but didn’t mention video system errors and others that make pilot use of the helmets difficult. Fixes to those problems are in the works.
We also didn’t hear any solutions to the cost of the aircraft, which seems to increase on a daily basis and could threaten the program, and thus threaten the future of Marine Corps jet aviation and thus threaten the future of Cherry Point.
Anyone attending the gala got some good information about the F-35. Of that there is no doubt. Still, we would have liked to have seen a more complete picture with some of the jet’s issues addressed for the program to fully come into focus.