At Stirling, we have been closely engaged with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Programme for many years, and our involvement dates to the 1980s with a joint US-UK study into ASTOVL (Advanced Short Take Off and Vertical Landing) aircraft. We were selected to provide the flight controller for the rear seat of the VAAC Harrier; an experimental aircraft designed by the MoD to look at active control technology for the ASTOVL programme.
By 1996, these R&D programmes were merged into the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Programme, for which we provided the active sticks and throttles that were used in the development simulators.
In 2005, Stirling was selected by Lockheed Martin as a sole source contractor to design and manufacture the active side sticks and throttles for the F-35 pilot training simulators. Exploiting the same developments that were featured in the aircraft, this new technology provided many benefits over traditional flight controls.
From the pilot’s perspective, the controllers were to be visually and functionally equivalent to the flight-worthy controllers. Part of the acceptance process for the initial units was a side-by-side comparison of Stirling units with the BAE Systems flight-worthy units. For this, we worked closely with BAE Systems to create simulator versions of the inceptor units, retaining key design parameters to ensure replication of feel, while utilising COTS components wherever possible to reduce cost, increase maintainability, and remove the complexity associated with the flight-worthy designs.
Since winning the contract to supply Lockheed Martin in 2005, we have successfully provided prototype and pre-production units to the company’s Orlando base and recently delivered its 500th production F-35 unit into the simulator programme. Throughout this programme, we have worked to continually improve the performance, reliability and cost-effectiveness of the design.
The production units have been in service at US Air Force, Navy and Marine training bases for several years and have proved to be highly reliable during heavy use to train pilots as the aircraft entered service. With the aircraft now in use and pilot training underway, Stirling are also required to maintain and service the supplied equipment under long-term warranty agreements.
We look forward to many more years of supporting the F-35 programme and working with Lockheed Martin to train pilots for the world’s premier fighter aircraft.