Lockheed Martin at 13:25 EDT today achieved the first vertical landing in the F-35B flight test series, providing a timely boost for manufacturer as the programme faces a Congressional review over cost overruns.
“Today’s vertical landing onto a 95ft square pad showed that we have the thrust and the control to maneuver accurately both in free air and in the descent through ground effect,” said F-35 lead STOVL Pilot Graham Tomlinson.
Tomlinson performed an 80kt (148km/h) short takeoff from Patuxent River naval air station in Maryland at 13:09 EDT. About 13 minutes into the flight, he positioned the aircraft 46m (150ft) feet above the airfield, where he commanded the aircraft to hover for approximately one minute before descending to the runway.
The vertical landing fulfills a single test point among several thousand over a nearly nine-year flight test phase for all three variants, but the achievement carries symbolic importance as Lockheed and programme officials attempt to show progress following a month-long series of programatic setbacks.
For the second time in two days, the BF-1 flight test aircraft decelerated to a hover about 46m off the ground at the naval air station. The test demonstrated a key capability for the US Marine Corps, which is buying hundreds of F-35Bs to replace Boeing AV-8B Harrier jump jets.
The test flight comes after a six-week series of revelations about cost overruns, production breakdowns and programme restructuring. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced on 1 February plans to slash F-35 production by up to 120 aircraft over the next five years. US Air Force officials also announced the F-35A is expected to enter service two years late.
Gates also replaced the programme manager, Brig Gen David Heinz, with US Navy Vice Adm David Venlet. Finally, Lockheed also was forced to accept foregoing up to $614 million in incentive fees.
The F-35B vertical landing event had been delayed from mid-2009 due to several issues, including engine malfunctions and unexpected maintenance requirements. Lockheed planned to record at least 1,200 flight tests in Fiscal 2010, but had completed only 3% within the first five months of the fiscal year.