NORFOLK, Va. - When you think of jets on an aircraft carrier, you probably think of the F-18 Super Hornet, but in the next several years, those will gradually be replaced by what Lockheed Martin is calling, the finest aircraft they've ever built - the F-35.
WHNT News 19 got a rare opportunity to learn more about the jet, and sit in a cockpit simulator.
Lockheed Martin has been working on the F-35 for the last ten years.
“It simply changes the game," says Mark Johnson of Lockheed Martin.
The military liked it so much, the defense contractor created versions for the Marine Corps., Air Force, and the Navy.
They've also sold versions to many of our country's closest allies.
“A large leap in lethality, survivability of the carrier strike group," says Tom Halley, a retired fighter pilot who now works for Lockheed Martin.
Known for its stealth, builders say it's the closest thing to being invisible up in the air. The technology is so advanced, a lot of the jet's more sophisticated elements are still classified by the U.S. Military.
“The capability that I can tell you about only scratches the surface. When we get into the secret and top secret capability you get the full monte on what this thing will do," says Halley.
Beyond stealth, the jet also eliminates distractions for the pilot. Halley says he easily spent 80 percent of his flight time checking radar. The F-35 now does that for you.
“It gives you 360 degrees of coverage so if something comes up behind you, say 50 miles, you’re going to know it’s there," he says.
So much of it has been simplified, even the uninitiated like our own reporter, Chris Davis, can be walked through a simulator of the jet.
This F-35 simulator gives you the chance to attempt a landing on an aircraft carrier. With a short runway and high speed, it's the toughest landing the Navy encounters. With a lot of coaching, Chris was able to land it without injury.
Next up, was a dog-fight in the air.
The plane was so stealthy, it's possible to fly within enemy range, drop a bomb and book it out of there before you're ever seen.
Tom's son currently flies planes for the Navy.
He says, knowing all the stealth components of the F-35 will soon be available to sailors, allows him to sleep at night.
"Being a father, I would rather him be in an F-35. I know he would come back," he says.
And that might be the most important reason these birds will soon take flight.
“It is definitely a generational leap," says Halley.
Production of the F-35 has a direct impact on Huntsville and the State of Alabama.
According to Lockheed's website, the F-35 itself brings 160 direct and indirect jobs to the state, 120 of them in the greater Huntsville area.
It also brings 8.3 million in economic impact to the state.
WHNT News 19 is giving you a glimpse on board the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower all week long. Tune in each morning, to WHNT News 19 This Morning, during the 6 am hour.