The F-35 has had a notoriously difficult, costly, and lengthy process to becoming a combat-ready platform. It makes the news for various teething issues ranging from being grounded by fog to having numerous technical problems or famously losing a dog fight to the much older F-16. But now that there is a cadre of pilots with a great deal of experience flying it, they can give first-hand testimony about its capabilities.
In reference to the dogfighting capabilities, pilots point out how they can do rudder turns in midair at high speeds that stimulate the turning of a helicopter. Some admit the turn rates, speed, and maneuverability aren’t that much better than older fighters, but they make up for it with an astounding situational awareness from advanced radio frequency, laser, infrared, and electro-optical sensors that indicate incoming threats far better than pilots in other planes. There is even an automatic system that prioritizes them for the pilot.
On top of that, pilots can manage their own signature to the point that they are nearly invisible until it’s incredibly deadly for the other plane, pilot, or target. This ability makes up for many of its other flaws or less-than-stellar performances such as its turn rates and speed compared to fourth- generation fighters.
It has intuitive controls that let some pilots hover without hands, and can compensate in case the plane is damaged. (These are many of the same sensors that can be rather touchy in peace-time conditions, but they make a difference in combat.) Finally, the pilots call it a fun plane to fly with a great deal of power.
The end result is that the platform has gotten a great deal of negative publicity, but those most familiar with it —the pilots who test it and now fly it in combat missions— call it an extraordinary platform that will own the air in the next generation.