F-35A vs F-35B vs F-35C: The F-35 was initially developed with three main variants: the F-35A, designed for conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) operations primarily for the USAF and other air forces; the F-35B, a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version suitable for land-based or aircraft carrier use, albeit with a slightly reduced fuel capacity compared to the F-35A; and the F-35C, tailored for catapult-assisted take-off and arrested recovery (CATOBAR) operations on aircraft carriers. Subsequently, there have been efforts to design specific versions of the F-35 to meet the requirements of Israel and Canada.
F-35A vs F-35B vs F-35C
The F-35A is the CTOL variant, designed for the USAF and other air forces. It is the smallest and lightest among the variants, capable of withstanding forces of up to 9 g, which is the highest among all F-35 variants. Although the F-35A currently employs aerial refueling through a boom and receptacle method, it can be adapted for probe-and-drogue refueling if required by the customer. Additionally, the F-35A can be equipped with a drag chute pod, with the Royal Norwegian Air Force being the first to adopt this feature.
The F-35B is the STOVL variant of the aircraft, similar in size to the F-35A. To accommodate its short take-off and vertical landing capabilities, it sacrifices approximately one-third of the fuel volume available in the F-35A. This variant is limited to handling forces of up to 7 g. Unlike other F-35 variants, the F-35B lacks a landing hook. Instead, it uses a “STOVL/HOOK” control to switch between normal and vertical flight modes. The F-35B can achieve speeds of Mach 1.6 (1,976 km/h) and is capable of performing vertical and/or short take-offs and landings (V/STOL).
The F-35C is a carrier-based variant engineered for catapult-assisted take-offs and arrested recovery operations on aircraft carriers. Compared to the F-35A, the F-35C boasts larger wings with foldable wingtip sections, increased control surface area for enhanced low-speed maneuverability, sturdier landing gear designed to withstand the stresses of carrier arrested landings, a twin-wheel nose gear, and a reinforced tailhook to engage with carrier arrestor cables. The larger wing area of the F-35C allows for reduced landing speeds while simultaneously enhancing both its range and payload capacity. The F-35C is limited to handling forces of up to 7.5 g.
Differences Between variants
|Length||51.4 ft (15.7 m)||51.2 ft (15.6 m)||51.5 ft (15.7 m)|
|Wingspan||35 ft (10.7 m)||35 ft (10.7 m)||43 ft (13.1 m)|
|Height||14.4 ft (4.39 m)||14.3 ft (4.36 m)||14.7 ft (4.48 m)|
|Wing Area||460 sq ft (42.74 m2)||460 sq ft (42.74 m2)||668 sq ft (62.06 m2)|
|Empty weight||28,999 lb (13,154 kg)||32,472 lb (14,729 kg)||34,581 lb (15,686 kg)|
|Internal fuel||18,250 lb (8,278 kg)||13,500 lb (6,123 kg)||19,750 lb (8,958 kg)|
|Weapons payload||18,000 lb (8,160 kg)||15,000 lb (6,800 kg)||18,000 lb (8,160 kg)|
|Max takeoff weight||70,000 lb (31,800 kg) class||60,000 lb (27,200 kg) class||70,000 lb (31,800 kg) class|
|Range||>1,200 nmi (2,200 km)||>900 nmi (1,700 km)||>1,200 nmi (2,200 km)|
|Combat radius on
|669 nmi (1,239 km)||505 nmi (935 km)||670 nmi (1,241 km)|
• full fuel:
• 50% fuel:
The F-35I Adir, named after the Hebrew word for “Awesome” or “Mighty One,” is essentially an F-35A aircraft that has been uniquely modified by Israel. Initially, the United States was hesitant to allow such modifications, but eventually granted Israel permission to integrate its own electronic warfare systems, which include various sensors and countermeasures. One notable feature of the F-35I is its main computer, which has a plug-and-play capability for adding on additional systems. Proposed enhancements include the potential addition of an external jamming pod, as well as the incorporation of new Israeli air-to-air missiles and guided bombs within the aircraft’s internal weapon bays.
A senior official from the Israeli Air Force (IAF) expressed concerns that the F-35’s stealth capabilities could potentially be compromised within the next 10 years, despite the aircraft having a projected service life of 30 to 40 years. This concern underscores Israel’s insistence on using its own electronic warfare systems to enhance the F-35’s survivability.
Additionally, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has explored the concept of a two-seat version of the F-35. An executive from IAI noted that there is a demand for such two-seat variants, not only from Israel but also from other air forces. Furthermore, IAI has plans to produce conformal fuel tanks as part of their contributions to the F-35 program.
The Canadian CF-35 was a proposed variant of the F-35 aircraft, intended to have some distinct features compared to the standard F-35A. These modifications included the addition of a drogue parachute and the potential inclusion of an F-35B/C-style refueling probe. However, it was later revealed in 2012 that the CF-35 would utilize the same boom refueling system as the F-35A. An alternative proposal considered adopting the F-35C due to its probe refueling capability and lower landing speed. However, a report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer highlighted concerns about the F-35C’s limited performance and payload capacity, deeming it too costly.
Following the 2015 Federal Election, the Liberal Party, which had pledged to cancel the F-35 procurement during their campaign, formed a new government. They initiated an open competition to replace the existing CF-18 Hornet fleet. Ultimately, the CF-35 variant was considered too expensive to develop and was not pursued. The Canadian government shifted its focus to the potential procurement of the existing F-35A variant.
On March 28, 2022, the Canadian Government entered negotiations with Lockheed Martin for the purchase of 88 F-35As, intended to replace the aging CF-18 fighter fleet starting in 2025. The total cost of the aircraft was reported to be up to CA$19 billion, with a projected life-cycle cost estimated at CA$77 billion over the course of the F-35 program. On January 9, 2023, Canada formally confirmed the purchase of 88 aircraft, with an initial delivery of 16 aircraft to the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in 2026 and the final batch scheduled for delivery in 2032. Additional features confirmed for the CF-35 included the inclusion of a drag chute pod for landings on short or icy Arctic runways, as well as the ‘sidekick’ system, which allows the CF-35 to internally carry up to 6 x AIM-120D missiles, as opposed to the typical internal capacity of 4 x AIM-120 missiles found on other F-35 variants.
The “F-35D” was used as a notional 2035 aircraft to illustrate a hypothetical scenario as part of a 2015 USAF study called the Future Operating Concept.