After exceeding a reduced flight test schedule in the first quarter, the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme faces new delays barring a strong push during the final week of April.
Lockheed and government pilots beat a 29-sortie flight test schedule during the first quarter, completing 33 flight tests from 1 January to 31 March, Lockheed Martin chief executive officer Bob Stevens told analysts yesterday.
But the pace of flight tests stalled in the first three weeks of the second quarter, with only five sorties completed through 21 April, says Stevens, during the company's first quarter earnings teleconference.
April was expected to be a key month for the flight test programme. After averaging one sortie almost every three days from January to March, the programme planned to complete 29 flight tests in April alone, or nearly one a day.
With nine days remaining on the calendar, Lockheed faces a tough challenge. The programme needs to average about 2.5 sorties per day through the end of April to remain on schedule.
Among the flight tests scheduled in April is the first flight of the CF-1, the first F-35C carrier variant to join the flying test fleet. In a hearing two weeks ago, senators singled out the completion of CF-1 first flight before May as a key milestone for proving the programme is back on track.
Under the latest revised schedule, the programme expects to complete 400 flight tests overall in 2010. A previous version of the schedule in effect until earlier this year called for completing more than 1,200 flight tests during the same period. Lockheed, however, is running at least six months behind on delivering flight test aircraft.
The second F-35A variant - AF-2 - completed its first flight on 20 April (shown pictured), becoming the 7th aircraft to enter flight tests. Lockheed has already retired one flying aircraft - AA-1 - for live-fire testing.
Stevens cautioned analysts from making "hyperbolic" reactions to any new minor delays in the flight test programme.
"I think there are going to be some periods where we do better than planned and some periods where we don't do as well as planned," Stevens says, "but my goal here is to look at the long-term trend and opportunities and make sure we're responding properly."