Lockheed Martin's short take-off and vertical landing F-35B has made its first flight with a key weapon system for the US Marine Corps installed.
Flown from the US Navy's Patuxent River test site in Maryland on 22 February, test aircraft BF-2 carried a 25mm gun pod on a centreline weapons station, in addition to two Raytheon AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles beneath its outboard wing stations.
Both images © Lockheed Martin
"Significant weapons testing for the F-35B and F-35C variants is scheduled for 2012, including fit checks, captive carriage, pit drop and aerial drop tests," said Lockheed.
Meanwhile, Royal Air Force experimental test pilot Sqn Ldr Jim Schofield has become the first UK pilot to fly the carrier variant F-35C, having performed a sortie in test aircraft CF-2 from Patuxent River.
As of 23 February, some 1,704 flights totalling more than 2,500h had been performed by the F-35 development and test fleet, said Lockheed. This total includes 114 flights conducted so far during 2012, it added.
BF-2's first flight with external stores came less than a week after a conventional take-off and landing F-35A AF-1 had also flown with two AIM-9X missiles as part of a payload including weapons carried in the aircraft's two internal bays.