The US Department of Defense's gargantuan tri-service F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme could be on the verge of solving many of the technical problems that have dogged it since the jets started flying.
Lockheed Martin says it will soon start to test solutions to vexing problems with the aircraft's vital helmet-mounted display system, adding that those modifications will clear up imagery lag, jittery imagery, and problems with night-vision acuity.
Lockheed has also redesigned the US Navy version's tail-hook, which previously could not catch an arresting cable on the carrier deck. If everything goes as planned, the new hook will begin testing next year.
The company says it has added resources and schedule to deal with software problems that might pop up. Pentagon officials cite software as their single biggest worry on the programme. Meanwhile, instructor pilots at Eglin AFB, Florida, have started their conversion to the new type. If the trend holds, it could be a sign the F-35 programme is getting back on track.
But there are potential pitfalls. Testing is entering the challenging high angle of attack portion of the flight envelope. Weapons separation and strenuous mission systems testing will follow. If problems are found, those could force expensive redesigns that could further delay a programme that is already grossly over its original cost projections and years behind schedule.
(This article first appeared as the lower Comment piece in 29 May issue of Flight International)