The United Kingdom's first Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II production jet made its inaugural test flight on 13 April. The aircraft, an F-35B short takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) model, flew a series of functional flight checks during the sortie. Lockheed's Bill Gigliotti was at the controls during the 45-minute flight.
The new aircraft will have to complete a series of company and government tests flights before it is accepted by the UK. This particular aircraft will be used for training and operational tests at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, beginning later this year, Lockheed says. The Florida base is the home of the US Air Force's 33rd Fighter Wing, the first US training wing.
"Not only is this a watershed moment for the Joint Strike Fighter program, since BK-1 is the first international F-35 to fly, but it also brings us one step closer to delivery of this essential 5th Generation capability for the U.K., " said Group Captain Harv Smyth, the Joint Strike Fighter UK National Deputy.
The fact this first UK F-35 is a B-model is slightly awkward, however. The UK had earlier switched from the F-35B model jet to the US Navy's F-35C carrier variant, however the UK's Ministry of Defence is considering reversing that decision. The cost of refitting one of that nation's two carrier, which are currently under construction, with catapult launch and arresting gear have been proving to be greater than the British government anticipated.