Many successful fighter aircraft, eg F/A-18 Hornet, have 2 crew (pilot and navigator), which (from my albeit limited research) gave great benefit in complex situations especially involving ground defences.

The F-35 Lightning II is supposed to be multi-purpose, but has only 1 crew - why?

  • Do the advanced electronics compensate for the lack of a navigator?
  • Would the design (aerodynamics/frame) be compromised by adding another seat?
  • Something else?
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    $\begingroup$ I found that duplicate, but I don't think it is s dupe, because this question is specific to the JSF $\endgroup$
    – Bohemian
    Commented Dec 6, 2015 at 0:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Bohemian: You should check the answer to the linked question by KeithS. Notice by the development of the F-15 through F-18 that designers and US top brass were already considering single-seaters to be sufficient; - the answer extensively lists what necessitated the second crew member and which advances made them redundant. Hornet was a notch above the line, F-35 is firmly in 1-seater territory. $\endgroup$
    – SF.
    Commented Dec 7, 2015 at 19:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ F/A-18A and F/A-18C are single-seat airplanes. F/A-18B and F/A-18D are two-holers, primarily used for training. F/A-18E and F/A-18F are significantly different airplanes, with the E being a one-holer and the F being a two-holer. F/A-18G is an electronic warfare version of the F/A-18F. So it is not correct that "F/A-18" is a two-seater. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 20:22

1 Answer 1


Why does the F-35 Lightning II have only 1 crew when the F/A-18 Hornet had 2?

According to program officials involved in the development of the F-35, the F-35 is a single seat aircraft because:

New advances in avionics and sensor fusion technology, which can allow a single pilot to perform missions that previously required two crew members.

  • Given the fact that the F-35 is build around the concept of Network Centric Warfare there is less cockpit workload for most strike missions. Consequently, the need for a co-pilot is a lot less.

  • The single-seat configuration also maximizes commonality between the three variants of the F-35 thereby keeping development costs low.

  • The survivability of the F-35 includes limiting the probability of detection. Ergo, a two-seater version can very easily increase the RCS of the F-35 thereby compromising its stealth capabilities

West 2014: Joint Strike Fighter: What Do the Pilots Who Are Flying It Today Have to Say?

That said, one major drawback that remains on the one seat design is the demand on one pilot to assimilate and decide on all the information available.


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