Brig Gen David Heinz, the F-35's new program executive, spoke to several reporters today about a wide range of program activities. Here are a few bits from my notebook while I continue to work on the news article.
1. Heinz said he believes that the benefits of an engine war may outweigh the $1 billion price tag to complete development of the GE/Rolls-Royce F136 engine. With the F-35 replacing the F-16, F/A-18C/D and AV-8B fleets, a safety-critical flaw in the F135 could pose an unacceptable operational risk. The 1980s engine war also produced a 20% price cut, and this could be repeated, he said. At the same time, Heinz also said that he "categorically supports" the DOD's FY10 budget request that eliminates funding for the F136.
2. The BF-1 prototype will fly in late June. It must complete eight check-out flights in Fort Worth to validate a software fix. Then it will qualify for aerial refuelling, and then ferry to NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, in August. There it will build down to its first pure vertical landing over 12 flgihts likely ending in late September or early October, Heinz said.
3. The flight test phase still has plenty of schedule margin. The 12-aircraft test fleet is budgeted to complete 12 sorties a month per aircraft. The flight test phase includes 5,000 flight test sorites and 10,000 flight hours, Heinz said. If test aircraft deliveries are further delayed, the program can add more sorties per month to complete testing on time, he said.
4. The BG-1 static test aircraft was delivered two months late, Heinz said. But BG-1's static tests are already back on schedule becauase modeling of the aircraft's expected performance exceeded predictions, he said.
5. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' statement on 6 April that the F-35's FY10 request amounted to $11.2 billion was a mathematical error, Heinz said. The correct figure for the 30-aircraft buy is $10.4 billion, which was the number forwarded to Congress on 7 May. Heinz added that $800 million was not removed from the program. The $11.2 billion figure must simply have been the result of mistaken arithmatic by Gates' staff.