F-35 to start operational utility evaluation on Monday

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter–aka the “Lightning II”–will be starting its Operational Utility Evaluation (OUE) on Monday. It’s basically an evaluation of the early block F-35s and the training pipeline to make certain that the jets are safe and robust enough to operate during routine training operations. Should the F-35 pass muster with the operational test community, Air Education and Training Command (AETC) will approve the formal start of training operations at Eglin AFB, Florida, sometime early next year. Pilots at Eglin say that there is every indication that the F-35 and the syllabus they have designed will make the grade.

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110714-f-jz907-004V2.jpgThe OUE is a unique artifact of the concurrency found on the F-35 program. Normally, training units get a hold of a new jet only after the operational testers have done at least some of their work. For example, the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor underwent a direct initial operational test and evaluation phase in 2003 with the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards AFB, California, followed by another operational test phase at Nellis AFB, Nevada, with the 422nd TES. The formal training unit (FTU) at Tyndall AFB, Florida–the 43rd Fighter Squadron–only started to receive its first Raptors in September 2003 with the first transition student completing the TX course in January 2004. But in the case of the F-35, the FTU is receiving its aircraft and instructor pilots well ahead of the operational test units and years before initial operational capability–thus necessitating an OUE.

Additionally, the Defense Acquisitions Board is meeting this afternoon. The F-35 JPO says it’s just a program update, but the senior leaders present will probably approve the F-35′s operational test plan. They will also probably check up on the jet’s progress on cost, manufacturing, testing, software and technical hiccups–like on the helmet-mounted display.  

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