Lockheed Martin has released video of the 15 December first flight of its F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. F-35 chief pilot Jon Beesley was at the controls for the 35min flight from Fort Worth, Texas.
The first was shorter than planned because an air-data sensor anomaly required Beesley to return and he did not get a chance to cycle the landing gear as planned, so the F-35 completes the entire flight with the gear down.
Things to look for in the video are the forward-hinging canopy that provides easy cockpit access; and the lack of a head-up display – unusual in a modern jet. The F-35 pilot will use a helmet-mounted display, but this is not yet fitted to the first aircraft.
As the aircraft taxis out, the size of the single nosewheel door is notable. The design has been changed for later F-35s to two smaller doors, which has allowed the vertical tails to be reduced in size to save weight.
After a slight wobble as the wheels lift off, the horizontal stabilisers moving rapidly, the aircraft makes a smooth climb-out – Beesley says the climb angle was steeper than he had expected from flying the simulator.
Although he had to return without cycling the gear, Beesley says the first flight achieved its objectives. He praises the controllability of the F-35 and its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, which enabled him to fly to and hold test points precisely.
Lockheed has not said when the F-35 will fly again, but the aircraft is expected to fly five or six times a month over the next 18 months until the remaining 14 development aircraft begin to join the flight-test fleet.