The Psychological Impact of Encountering a Stealth Fighter, According to a Marine Corps Pilot

Dan Flatley, a retired Marine Corps major, has personal experience facing off with a stealth fighter. While flying an F/A-18, he faced off with an F-22 Raptor, a stealth aircraft that left him with “no way” to defend himself. Flatley later piloted an F-35, giving him the chance to psychologically cripple opponents himself.

Flatley described the feeling of helplessness that accompanies encountering a stealth fighter during an interview with Business Insider.

“I remember indelibly the moment in which the AWAC [airborne early warning and control plane] called out to me that there was a Raptor in front of me at very close range,” said Flatley. “That made me uncomfortable.”

“I had no way of targeting him, no way of defending myself.”

Even though Flatley had received a substantial amount of training designed to help him keep his cool during air-to-air combat, the feeling associated with dealing with a stealth craft shook him. Before even spotting the F-22, his composure crumbled.

Later, Flatley became an F-35 pilot and designed training curriculum that allowed other pilots to tap into the psychological effect a stealth fighter can spawn.

An F-35 has six cameras and a helmet display that provides pilots with a high-level of visibility. Plus, it features infrared radar and sensor-fusion capabilities to help those flying the craft have a vivid picture of their surroundings.

But, the stealth capabilities of the F-35 means those with whom they face off aren’t afforded the same luxury.

While AWACs “may have a general idea that there’s an F-35 out there,” Flatley stated, “they don’t know exactly where we are.”

This results in the other pilot, according to Flatley, developing tunnel vision.

“Everything they see becomes the F-35 out there,” Flatley asserted. “Every radar hit, every communication is about the stealth jet. They want to illuminate or eliminate a threat they can’t handle.”

The sensation of not being able to spot the F-35 can result in the opposing pilot becoming fearful and paranoid.

Even extremely skilled pilots can be crippled by the psychological impact.

“It has nothing to do with their skill or technology. They’re at such a technological disadvantage,” Flatley stated. “I’ve seen guys in F-18s turn directly in front of me and show me their tails ‘cause they have no idea I’m there.”

“It aggregates to a completely inept response to what we’re doing in the air,” Flatley added. “People are so hellbent on shooting down the stealth fighter that they invariably make mistakes that I can exploit.”