Written by Dabney B. on Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012
Lockheed Martin managed to secure the contract to manufacture the USAF’s fifth generation fighter, the F-35. These top-of-the-line aircraft are barely off the production line and they haven’t even run through the full gamut of tests, but that hasn’t stopped major military contractors from bouncing around ideas for sixth generation fighters. The aircraft of tomorrow isn’t even integrated into the Air Force yet, and scientists are already working on the aircraft of the day after tomorrow.
It will probably be a few decades before we see these Next Generation Tactical Aircraft (Next Gen TACAIR) take to the skies — they’re not scheduled to enter service until 2025-2030. Engineers from Lockheed Martin and Boeing are both already hard at work brainstorming. The Air Force is looking for something that has “enhanced capabilities in areas such as reach, persistence, survivability, net-centricity, sustained awareness, human-system integration and weapon effects.” That’s all a bit technical, but they basically just want something that’s stronger, faster, and stealthier than any other fighter jet.
Lockheed Martin is not content to just sit back and let Boeing dazzle the Navy. They’re promising aircraft equipped with self-healing structures. Yes, as crazy as it sounds, they want to build aircraft that can recover from battle damage and continue to fly. The basic principle behind the self-healing technology borrows a lot from human biology. When we are wounded, blood pours out of the wound and hardens to create a scab. Lockheed Martin would install healing systems at weak points around the aircraft. If the aircraft were ever damaged, the healing system would leak a thick foam over the damaged area and then quickly harden to create a reliable seal. In theory, that should allow the aircraft to stay in the air when it would otherwise plummet out of the sky.
Innovations like that might just be enough to secure a contract with the Department of Defense. Boeing’s X-51A Waverider recently failed its third test flight, which may have shaken the DOD’s confidence in Boeing aircraft.
Some critics argue that Boeing and Lockheed Martin are getting ahead of themselves. The fleet of F-35s might already be superior to its two closest competitors, Russia’s PAK FA and China’s Chengdu J-20, so upgrading to the newest model might not even be necessary. Former US Marine Corps Lt General Emerson Gardner also isn’t very optimistic about the program; he said, “It’s not going to happen. There’s not any money there.”
The future’s looking rather hazy with the sixth generation of fighter jets. Since even specialists in the field cant’ seem to agree, I think we’ll have to resort to mystical answers:
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