Tailhook Woes (cont.)

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It’s progress, of a sort, when the Navy’s tailhook woes are linked to an actual tailhook – the hook that grabs the arresting cable on an aircraft carrier and lets the plane land safely – and not the debauchery that was common at the Tailhook Assocation’s annual gatherings. That kind of Tailhook trouble exploded into a nationwide scandal in 1991 when scores of women were assaulted by boozed-up naval aviators at their Las Vegas convention.

The latest tailhook trouble involves its location on the several hundred F-35s that Lockheed is building for the Navy (the Pentagon is buying close to 2,500, including versions for the Air Force and Marines, for $380 billion, the most costly weapons system in history; h0w the the Navy and Marines will divvy up their combined purchase of 680 has yet to be fought over). Because the F-35C – the Navy version of the plane – is stealthy, the tailhook must be housed inside the aircraft. That has shrunk the distance between the tailhook and the main landing gear to slightly more than seven feet, the shortest – i.e., diciest — in Navy history.

A November Pentagon report warned there are “significant issues” associated with the design that could lead to a major redesign, reduced stealthiness, or both.

The Pentagon’s top weapons-tester just dropped this bombshell:

“Flight test aircraft could not engage the arrestment cable during tests at the Lakehurst, New Jersey, test facility. The tail-hook point is undergoing a redesign and the hold-down damper mechanism requires modifications to enable successful arrestments on the carrier. Resolution of these deficiencies is needed for testing to support F-35C ship trials in late 2013.”

Lockheed officials insist these are minor-league problems that will be fixed in plenty of time for that first carrier landing.