The limitations, workarounds and flight restrictions in place on the F-35A at this early stage of its development substantially limit its utility of training, the Defense Department’s chief weapons tester said in a report.

In his F-35A Ready For Training Operational Utility Evaluation (OUE) report, DoD Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) Michael Gilmore said in February aircraft operating limitations prohibit flying the aircraft at night or in instrument meteorological conditions where pilots must rely on aircraft instruments. The F-35A is also prohibited from flying close formation, aerobatics and stalls, all of which would normally be in the familiarization phase of transition training.

The report was first reported by the non-profit Project on Government Oversight (POGO).

Gilmore also found in his report a number of areas the F-35A needs to improve: the radar, the pilot’s helmet-mounted display and the cockpit interfaces for controlling the radios and navigational functions. Gilmore said the F-35A’s training management system lags in development compared to the rest of the Integrated Training Center and does not yet have all planned functionality. Plans and procedures for training pilots to recover the aircraft in the event of an engine problem or flameout should be reviewed for adequacy and to assure such training can be conducted in an appropriate venue, Gilmore said in the report.

The report found radar system performance shortfalls such as being completely inoperative on two sorties, or training flights, failing to display targets on one sortie, inexplicably dropping targets on another sortie and taking excessive time to develop a track on near co-speed targets on yet another sortie.

The helmet-mounted display system also presented problems for pilots, according to the report. Problems cited included misalignment of the virtual horizon display with the actual horizon, inoperative for flickering displays and focal problems, in which the pilot would have either blurry or double vision in the display. The report said pilots also mentioned problems with stability, jitter, latency and brightness of the presentation in the helmet display, all of which are being worked on in developmental testing.

Due to design, the pilot-vehicle interface causes an increased workload, the report said. The touch screen used to control the radios is not readily accessible, requires more channelized attention, has no tactile feedback and is error prone, especially during demanding phases of flight or under turbulent flight conditions.

Gilmore found the out-of-cockpit visibility in the F-35A is less than other Air Force fighter aircraft, an issue the report said not only adversely affects training but also safety and survivability. The report said one student pilot surveyed the degree to which the visibility deficiencies impeded or degraded training effectiveness as “moderate” while three others rated it as “high” or “very high.”

The OUE assessed whether the F-35A, the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant the Air Force is purchasing, and its training system are ready to begin transition training of pilots in what it calls the Block 1A syllabus. The OUE said transition training is typically an introduction to aircraft systems, handling characteristics throughout the aircraft envelope and qualification to operate and land in visual and instrumentational weather conditions for experienced pilots who have flown in other fighter aircraft and are transitioning to the F-35.

The F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) said Wednesday in a statement there are no issues identified in the report that the Air Force and JPO didn’t already know about and aren’t already working to resolve. JPO also said F-35 operational and maintenance (O&M) procedures will continue to mature as the training tempo accelerates. JPO said the report is based upon the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team report, which found no effectiveness, suitability or safety response that would prohibit continuation of transitioning experienced pilots.

Gilmore made several recommendations in the report, including:

* Implement pilot-vehicle interface improvements in the cockpit displays and touch screen controls for communication and navigation functions as identified in the OUE.
* Complete testing of the pilot escape system (transparency removal and ejection seat) under off-nominal ejections as soon as possible.
* Complete certification and installation of the water-activated-release system for the ejection seat as soon as possible to enhance pilot survivability in the event of an ejection over water.
* Fully resolve Category 1, or safety of flight related, deficiency reports relevant to training operations at Eglin AFB, Fla., as soon as possible.
* Address the discrepancies identified in the simulation certification report, coupled with the student pilot’s experience in the aircraft during OUE, to assure the simulated flameout training for F-35 pilots is adequate.
* Evaluate reliability performance and make adjustments to assure interim reliability growth targets and, eventually, Operational Requirement Document (ORD) thresholds can be met.

The Air Force is buying 1,763 F-35As. The F-35 is developed by Lockheed Martin [LMT].