Murphy's Law: The Reboot Generation

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June 7, 2016: The F-35, like any new aircraft, gets a lot of criticism for systems that are frequently failing and thus making the aircraft unable to fly. What is often missed in the media coverage is that these same aircraft would often be sent up in wartime with some systems (usually electronics) that are not working. That’s because in combat aircraft regularly go up with inoperable but unneeded (for that mission) systems. Also, when combat pilots use an aircraft long enough they realize that “system failure” to a quality control engineer is often just a minor nuisance for pilots. This was rediscovered once more as U.S. Marine Corps pilots began flying the new F-35B in mid-2015. The well-publicized F-35B software failures (that usually could be fixed with a reboot) were found tolerable by combat pilots because such failures were fixed by pressing a button for a reboot that took a few seconds. Even before software became an essential item for combat aircraft there were electrical and mechanical systems that would fail but function again if restarted.

Many of these new F-35B pilots had previously flown the 14 ton AV-8B for years and fond the new 27 ton F-35B less temperamental, easier to operate and more capable than the AV-8B it is replacing. Both are STOVL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft and designed to operate from primitive airfields closer to the combat zone. This is possible because of the STOVL capability. F-35B will carry about twice the weapons as the AV-8B, and have about twice the range (800 kilometers) and even with the occasional reboot is seen as safer than the AV-8. This use of recoverable failures is common in most military weapons and equipment and experienced operators become more effective by learning how to handle these failures in combat.

 


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