BETHESDA, Md. — A spokesman for Lockheed Martin today denied that there is any reason to be alarmed about possible shortcomings of the military's newest and most expensive fighter plane after reports surfaced this weekend that an F-35, piloted by a crack Air Force fighter pilot, lost a mock dogfight with a Fokker Dr.I Triplane similar to the aircraft once piloted by World War I German Ace Manfred von Richtofen, the "Red Baron," piloted by a World War I reenactor.
"The F-35 isn't really meant for that kind of fighting," said Lance McCory, a Lockheed spokesman. "We intend it to be a first-rate mulitrole attack aircraft, and to excel at long-range fighting, what we call BVR, or 'Beyond Visual Range' air combat. Not to worry about some Hun who's been dead a hundred years. Frankly, the two aircraft involved in this battle represent two different philosophies of air combat."
The Fokker Dr.I Triplane, made of wood and doped linen, entered service with the German Army Air service in 1917. It was famous for its considerable maneuverability and its high rate of climb. The pilot sat in an open cockpit, exposed to the weather, and had primitive controls by today's standards.
McCory went on to add, "The Dr.I triplane might out climb, out turn, and out dive the F-35, but where is its radar, huh? Where are its sensors? Where is the laser terrain guidance? Huh? Sure, up close, in a knife fight, the Dr.I has machine guns, and an F-35 pilot just has his sidearm. And [the Dr.I's] cloth wings are nearly invisible to radar. But we have 'the world's most advanced fighter jet.'"
Capt. A.J. Schrag, an Air Combat Command spokesman, said "There's no way to adapt the [Dr.I] airframe to carry the required missiles and radar. It might be good in a dogfight, but not standing off for close air support, and it's completely hopeless when it comes to engaging targets in a BVR-type air battle."
Meanwhile, according to a source close to the recent dogfight, the F-35 "turns like a garbage truck. It might be faster than the triplane, but that doesn't matter in a stall fight."
Lockheed officials have separately downplayed reports that the same F-35, flown by the same pilot, previously lost mock dogfights with the Goodyear Blimp and a beagle on a flying doghouse.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III declined comment through a spokesman, saying only, "Curse you, Red Baron!"