F-35A Stealth Jet Finally Shows Off Gun in Flight
Video depicts the fighter opening fire
On Oct. 30, U.S. Air Force test pilot Maj. Charles Trickey fired an F-35A’s internal GAU-22 25-millimeter cannon during a test flight for the first time ever. In a video released by Lockheed Martin seen below, Trickey fires a two-second burst from the gun on a prototype known as AF-2.
“Just going out there today to make sure the functionality, loads, vibro-acoustics – all that stuff worked,” Trickey says on the ground at the end of the clip. “It went about as smooth as you could’ve expected on the first flight.”
AF-2 is the same aircraft that lost a mock air-to-air battle against an older F-16D fighter jet in January. An anonymous individual leaked the report from that experiment to War Is Boring six months later.
Lockheed Martin no doubt released the video clip to show the F-35 program is moving in the right direction. Since the flying branch expects the F-35A to replace both the snub-nosed A-10 Warthog and the faster-flying F-16 Viper, the gun has been a central issue.
Currently, the older Warthogs and Vipers are flying combat missions in Iraq and Syria – missions that sometimes call for the limited firepower of a cannon. Unlike a missile or a bomb with a larger warhead, pilots can shoot explosive shells from a gun much closer to friendly forces without necessarily putting them in danger.
But Lockheed Martin, despite proving that the gun works, has given no indication that the F-35 can use its cannon in combat anytime soon. By the Pentagon’s own estimation, the software needed to help the pilot put his rounds on the right target won’t be ready for at least another two years.
On top of that, the test video highlights another major problem — ammunition capacity. The GAU-22 fires 4,000 rounds per minute or nearly 70 rounds per second.
Unfortunately, the F-35A’s ammunition’s magazine holds a meager 180 rounds. With a full load of shells, Trickey’s two-second burst would have exhausted nearly two-thirds of the total supply.
The F-16 has enough 20-millimeter shells for nearly twice as many passes. The A-10 carries more than 1,000 shells for its absolutely monstrous 30-millimeter gun. Still, despite the host of serious issues still plaguing the F-35, proving the gun works is an important event for the program.