01/09/2012 11:18 am ET Updated Mar 07, 2012

More on the JFS: Getting the Hook: Are the F-35Cs Fit to Fly?

The recently leaked "F-35 Joint Striker Fighter Concurrency Quick Look Review" reported that "the F-35C had failed to grab the cable used on carrier desks to bring the aircraft to a stop in recent tests", according to InsideDefense.

In my previous posts I've been reporting on schedule delays and cost overruns on the F-35, and most of the comments the pieces have received bear on those subjects. The rush by air force officials to start pilot training on the F-35 have been mentioned but not emphasized. It's about time that they were considered.

Even while Air Force officials were trying to overcome DOD cautions about beginning pilot training, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division was discovering that the "F-35C tail hook 'skipped or 'ticked' the cable without engaging.'" Again, according to InsideDefense, "One of the risks noted was the arresting hook system, which failed on all eight attempts to connect with the cable in roll-in arrestment testing at Lakehurst, mostly because the tail hook is too short...If the modifications the program is making to the aircraft don't work, the program may have to conduct a major structural redesign of the aircraft."

I guess this means that any Navy pilots testing the F-35C and trying to land on an aircraft carrier equipped with the hook currently employed would wind up in the ocean. One expert thinks that just changing the hook is unlikely to require a redesign of the aircraft. Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group argues that "I can't believe that you couldn't just stress a couple of areas and put a tail hook on it" and solve the problem. We're going to find out who's right sometime this year, but I wouldn't want Naval pilots training on the plane until Lockheed Martin gets the problem solved.

It seems to me that Air Force flyboys are all too eager to get the plane up in the air before it's really ready to go. Whether you believe the F-35 should join the Air Force or that the project should be killed, we can all agree that nobody wants to see pilots killed because they're training on aircraft that aren't fit to fly.