Yesterday, I spoke to Lt Col George Schwartz, director of the F-35 integrated test force at Edwards AFB in California. Testing is going quite well over there, the all-important software is more mature and more stable at this point in the F-35′s development than in previous programs he’s worked on, Schwartz says. But there have and will continue to be problems that are discovered and fixed–hence the whole concept of flight testing.
The Edwards test team has completed air start testing for the USAF F-35A model jets, so they’re ready to start high alpha testing. That’ll start just as soon as they finish installing the spin chute on AF-4 and it’s all ground tested. Schwartz says he expects to start that high AOA work next month. They’ll be going from the current 20 degree AOA restriction to 50 degrees AOA. But unlike its Lockheed Martin corporate sibling, the F-22 Raptor, or the Boeing F/A-18, the F-35 has an alpha limiter that won’t allow you to exceed 50 degrees AOA.
The F-35 handles quite well, Schwartz says, which is something all of the pilots I’ve talked to have said. But there needs to be more work done on the transonic roll-off issue, but they’re getting there. Interestingly, while it’s not remotely close to being as fast as its older F-22 sibling, the guys at Edwards have been routinely taking the F-35 up to its max speed of Mach 1.6 with internal payloads.