Lockheed Martin has flight-tested the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter's navigation modes using the Co-operative Avionics Test Bed, or CATBird, a heavily modified Boeing 737-300.
Flight-testing of the communication, navigation, identification (CNI) hardware and software is the first phase in a programme that will see the JSF's integrated avionics tested in flight six months before delivery of the first F-35 mission-systems test aircraft.
Modified by BAE Systems, the CATBird emulates the F-35's power, cooling and cabling infrastructure and has been equipped with racks to hold the fighter's sensors and processors, plus an extensive data collection and recording system. Initial testing of the CNI functions was conducted last December.
After the completion of flights to evaluate the inertial navigation/global positioning system, the CATBird will be grounded for installation of the F-35's radar, electronic-warfare system and a simulated cockpit. Flight-testing with these major mission-system components is expected to resume in October.
The CATBird has taken on increased importance in the JSF development effort after a decision to drop two mission-system test aircraft from the F-35 flight-test programme to save money. Lockheed says the CATBird will increase confidence that the integrated avionics will be ready for system-level evaluation on its first flight in the F-35.