Lockheed Martin has unveiled the first naval variant for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme in a roll-out ceremony at its final assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas.
'"It's an honour and a privilege and it is a great day", says Adm Gary Roughhead, chief of naval operations. The US Navy plans to operate 260 F-35C carrier variants among the 2,443 aircraft in the current US programme.
"This airplane will top anything that comes it's way," Roughead adds.
The first prototype CV model to roll off the production line - CF-1 - follows the debut of a conventional variant for the US Air Force in December 2006 and a short take-off and vertical landing F-35B in June 2008.
The naval variant uses the same propulsion system as the air force fighter, but adds other modifications, including an expanded wing and strengthened landing gear.
The F-35C will be the first tactical aircraft to enter naval service in the USA for several decades that is powered by a single engine. It will also be the first carrier-based jet fighter featuring all-aspect stealth.
The navy's first F-35C unit is scheduled to enter service in fiscal year 2015, although one Pentagon estimate projects a two-year delay.
The CF-1 prototype model is now expected to start flight tests in late December, reflecting a three-month schedule slip. It is projected to be the fourth F-35 prototype to enter flight test, following the non-production configuration AA-1, and STOVL aircraft BF-1 and BF-2.