F-35 flight test update: One step forward, two steps back?

After exceeding a reduced flight test schedule in the firstquarter, the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme faces new delays barring a strongpush during the final week of April.

Lockheed and government pilots beat a 29-sortie flight testschedule during the first quarter, completing 33 flight tests from 1 January to31 March, Lockheed Martin chief executive officer Bob Stevens told analystsyesterday.

But the pace of flight tests stalled in the first threeweeks 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 testprogramme. After averaging one sortie almost every three days from January toMarch, the programme planned to complete 29 flight tests in April alone, ornearly one a day.

With nine days remaining on the calendar, Lockheed faces atough challenge. The programme needs to average about 2.5 sorties per daythrough the end of April to remain on schedule.

Among the flight tests scheduled in April is the firstflight of the CF-1, the first F-35C carrier variant to join the flying testfleet. In a hearing two weeks ago, senators singled out the completion of CF-1 firstflight before May as a key milestone for proving the programme is back ontrack.

Under the latest revised schedule, the programme expects tocomplete 400 flight tests overall in 2010. A previous version of the schedule ineffect until earlier this year called for completing more than 1,200 flighttests during the same period. Lockheed, however, is running at least six monthsbehind on delivering flight test aircraft.

The second F-35A variant – AF-2 – completed its first flighton 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 dobetter 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 andopportunities and make sure we’re responding properly.”


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8 Responses to F-35 flight test update: One step forward, two steps back?

  1. Aussie Digger 22 April, 2010 at 2:40 pm #

    Hi Steve,

    As to the testing schedule, AF-1 has already flown twice since it emerged newly painted just the other day and as your story outlines, AF-2 has now flown.

    Interesting that AF-2 has flown it’s first flight, fully painted. Most aircraft to date have not, including AF-1. That suggests to me that there are no planned upgrades or other ground testing planned for this airframe, and if so, flight testing should proceed as currently planned.

    If it does not, well then there might be issues, but it is interesting to see how quickly people jump on any minor issues now…

    Still the next few weeks will be illuminating. AF-1 and AF-2 should be flying more often and if you are correct, CF-1 should make it into the air under it’s own power…

  2. Stephen Trimble 22 April, 2010 at 2:48 pm #

    Thanks Aussie Digger. Great update on AF-1. I also noticed the paint job on AF-2 as unusually complete. I wonder if that’s a sign of progress behind the scenes? The big issue, of course, is CF-1 first flight. Lots of eyes are looking at that.

  3. H3r0 22 April, 2010 at 10:05 pm #

    Hi Stephen,

    Thanks for this really good entry. I was wondering if the F-35 flight schedule was a public document and if so where can we find and follow this schedule?

    Thanks again for your amazing blog,

  4. alloycowboy 25 April, 2010 at 11:04 am #

    Hey Stephen great post. AF-2 is suppose to do the weapons release testing all the way upto Mach 1.6…… I was just wondering how that compares to the F-22. What is the maximum speed an F-22 can launch a missle at and is it faster or slower then the F-35?

  5. Aussie Digger 26 April, 2010 at 4:07 am #

    AF-1 has now flown 3 times since it’s been back in the air and AF-1 twice, with both AF-1 and AF-2 in the air around NAS For Worth at the same time on 24 April.

    Those fence check fellows like to keep and eye on things…




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