How Fast Can the F-35 Fly? The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is one of the most capable combat aircraft in service today. It successfully combines stealth, sensor fusion, and network-enabled operations into a single airframe – yet, it is built in three variants to replace multiple aircraft including the U.S. Air Force F-16s and A-10s, U.S. Navy F/A-18s, U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18s, and U.K. Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers
F-35: Speed and Stealth
The F-35 is powered by a Pratt & Whitney F135, the most powerful fighter engine in the world. It produces 43,000 lbs of thrust and consists of a three-stage fan, a six-stage compressor, an annular combustor, a single-stage high-pressure turbine, and a two-stage low-pressure turbine. The F135 Enhanced Engine Package (EEP) also incorporates next-generation adaptive propulsion technologies that offer increased thrust and fuel efficiency, as well as thermal management capacity.
At Mach 1.6 (1,200mph) – 1.6 times the speed of sound – the Lightning II can operate as a long-range, supersonic fighter, even with a full complement of internal weapons and fuel.
A Stealthy Warbird
It isn’t just its speed and sensors that set the F-35 apart. It is practically invisible.
Low observable, or stealth, features of the F-35 include an integrated airframe design, use of advanced materials, sophisticated countermeasures, and provision of onboard electronic attack capabilities. The F-35’s aligned edges, and reduced engine signature, while mission systems and sensors are carefully embedded around the airframe. Internal carriage of weapons and fuel along with those embedded sensors all contribute to its unique stealth performance.
The F-35 is equipped with an advanced jamming system that tricks or suppresses hostile radars, both in the air and on the ground. Enemy radars might detect something in the distance, but they can’t track it or target it. In addition, the Lightning II’s powerful turbofan engine masks and dissipates heat before heat-seeking missiles can home in.
F-35 Lighting II: An Advanced Aircraft
The fifth-generation fighter jet is now produced in three variants. The F-35A is the conventional take-off landing version; the F-35B is the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) iteration that can take off and land like a helicopter, making it an excellent choice for expeditionary warfare; while the F-35C is the aircraft carrier version designed to withstand the extreme forces of carrier operations. Both the F-35B and F-35C are specialized for service aboard amphibious assault ships and aircraft carriers.
A multi-role fighter jet, the F-35 can conduct six mission sets effectively: Strategic Attack, Air Superiority, Close Air Support, Electronic Warfare, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), Suppression Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD), and Destruction Enemy Air Defense (DEAD).
The F-35 is actually slower and less maneuverable than some fourth-generation fighters – but while slow and steady may win the race, there is also the fact that if you can’t see it, you can’t destroy it. That is where the F-35 will win the day.
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.
October 18, 2022 at 7:41 pm
I always laugh at fighter comparisons that talk about top speed as if that’s a significant stand-alone figure of merit. First, the speed quoted is based on a clean configuration–no external tanks, armament, pods, suspension equipment, etc., and has no relation to combat employment. For example the F-4 was rated faster than Mach 2, but it’s doubtful more than a few flyers got close to that speed; I doubt I was ever faster than 1.3, and that was in an air-to-air unit. The F-16, when clean, was intentionally limited to around Mach 2 (clean) due to a lack of a variable geometry inlet. The best I ever reached was around 1.85 at 40,000 feet, and that was on a functional check flight of a clean jet–still took a while to get there, but ran out of air space before going any faster.
The real factor is how fast a fighter can accelerate through transonic to supersonic in a combat configuration. The F-35 in stealth configuration is aerodynamically clean while carrying, for example, 2 2000# class weapons and 4 AIM-120s, and can go through the mach easily. Compare that to an F-16 with external, parent mounted Mk-84s, two wing tanks the size of pontoons, missiles on 4 rails, and an ECM pod–this would limit the jet to .9 Mach or around 600 KCAS at lower altitudes.
Max airspeeds in “airshow” configuration is not particularly meaningful for comparing fighters.
October 18, 2022 at 11:55 pm
Telling the Chinese and Russians what we have or to scare them off.