First F-35 resumes flight tests

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Lockheed Martin's first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) returned to flight on 5 March after a software update to incorporate performance data from its first seven flights. Aircraft AA-1 is expected to fly twice weekly as the company continues to expand the flight envelope.

The second JSF - the first short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) F-35B and the first with weight-optimised airframe - is now scheduled to fly in May-June 2008. Final assembly of the aircraft, BF-1, is already under way at Lockheed's Fort Worth, Texas plant.

"We mated the centre fuselage and forward fuselage in January, and the aft fuselage will ship from BAE Systems in early April," says F-35 programme general manager Dan Crowley. "We will complete the wing in June." Roll-out is planned for year-end, and captive hover tests for the second quarter of 2008, he says.

Design release for the STOVL F-35B is 98% complete, 70% for the conventional take-off and landing F-35A and 15% for the F-35C carrier variant (CV). The final critical design review, for the CV, is planned for June, having been delayed from November 2006 and the first F-35C, aircraft F-1, is now planned to fly in mid-2009.