Speculation has, understandably, run rampant as to what is causing the sonic booms, which tend to take place when an aircraft breaks the sound barrier.
One theory suggests that the military is testing the sort of top-secret aircraft that usually fly over the desert southwest. The idea has been compounded by the fact that the military is usually tight-lipped about military tests, except to clear a flight area of civilian traffic.
No mysterious sounds taking place in the sky would be complete without the old standby theory of alien spacecraft (2). Why an alien UFO would break the sound barrier so close to land, thus giving itself away, is something that is open to question.
Other theories included earthquakes, secret tunnels, and mysterious geological tests on the ocean floor.
However, as ABC News reported the day after the January incident, the United States Navy has suggested that the sonic booms were created by supersonic flight tests of the F-35C operating out of the Naval Air Station in Patuxent River, Maryland (3).
The F-35 is the newest fighter jet under development that is supposed to meet the needs of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps for the next few decades (4). The fighter has also become a big headache during flight testing, failing to measure up to the very requirements that it is supposed to fulfill.
The F-35 comes in three variants, the F-35A that will take off and land like a regular fighter and will be used by the Air Force, the F-35B, that will be a short takeoff and vertical landing fighter and will be used by the Marine Corps, and the F-35C that can be launched from a carrier and will be used by the Navy.
The theory was that developing one weapons platform, which will perform ground attacks, air reconnaissance, and air defense missions, for all three services would save money. However, the F-35 has become the most expensive weapons system in American history, with an eye popping $135 billion cost overrun and a seven-year delay. However, the project has become too big to kill because of sunk costs and political momentum.
The Pentagon recently issued a report written by Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, which concluded that the current version of the F-35 could not survive in a hostile combat environment without being augmented by other air assets (5). The fighter is still plagued by a number of hardware and software issues that have greatly inhibited its capability as a fighter.
The report, “–some of the problems facing the current version of the F-35 Block 2B, include the fact that the F-35 is unable to deploy weapons or defensive countermeasures while flying at its maximum speed—pilots will need to slow down from the F-35’s max speed of Mach 1.6 to Mach 1.2 or less in order to fire.
“Software bugs continue to plague the fighter as well, with 11 out of 12 weapons tested during Block 2B evaluation severely hampered. The software malfunctions, Gilmore writes, ‘required intervention by the developmental test control team to overcome system deficiencies and ensure a successful event (i.e., acquire and identify the target and engage it with a weapon)’ (5).
A History of Troubling Issues
“More troubling are the overheating issues, which have been known about for years and have yet to be fixed. The F-35’s weapons bay can overheat if the plane is maintaining high speeds at an altitude of under 25,000 feet and an atmospheric temperature 90° F or greater.
The trouble occurs if the plane’s weapon bay doors are closed for upwards of 10 minutes, and opening the bay doors negates the F-35s stealth capabilities. The F-35 is also unable to pull more than 3.8 Gs with a fully loaded fuel tank, due to known problems with the fuel tank siphon. The plane can only pull its maximum of 7 Gs once its fuel tanks are at least 45 percent empty” (5).
The problems developed by inadequate testing that featured teams “putting their thumbs on the scale” to make certain that various F-35 systems would pass. Fixing the problems will take more time and money, delaying the ready-to-fly version another year to August 2018.