Plans include 14 aircraft in three versions, drawing on lessons from concept demonstration

Lockheed Martin is laying out plans for a 10,000h flight-test programme for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), starting in August 2005. This will involve 14 conventional (CTOL), carrier (CV) and short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) prototypes, three test centres and, for the first time, harmonisation of US Air Force and US Navy flight-test practices.

Drawing on lessons from the JSF concept demonstration phase, a new working group is putting in place common flight clearance and discrepancy reporting procedures at Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth, Texas, facility and the USAF Edwards AFB, California, and USN NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, test centres. "We want to meld these into one process that is transparent as you move from site to site. Itwill be another first for this programme," says Tom Phillips, Lockheed Martin deputy director JSF flight test.

Plans call for the first test aircraft, A1, to fly at Fort Worth two months ahead of the October 2005 contractual target date before being ferried to Edwards. The first two aircraft will be focused on CTOL handling qualities and will be followed in 2006-7 by three aircraft devoted to mission system and weapon testing. The five CTOL aircraft will be responsible for 42% of the scheduled total JSF flight testing.

The next variant to fly will be the STOVL aircraft in early 2006 starting with a vertical "press-up" by aircraft B1. Although the bulk of STOVL flight testing will be at Patuxent River, Lockheed Martin is considering construction of a hover pit at Fort Worth. B1 and B2 will be configured as flight science aircraft, testing flight qualities unique to the STOVL version, with early sea trials aboard a USN helicopter carrier and a UK Royal Navy aircraft carrier planned for mid-2007 and early 2008, respectively. One of the two mission system aircraft will end up being used for live fire testing in 2007.

CV testing will start around October 2006, encompassing five aircraft and accounting for around a third of JSF development flight time. The first USN sea trials will begin in late 2007.

Six static test articles will be built for fatigue and load testing, as well as a CTOL pole model and a CV drop test airframe. A series of integrated operational tests is planned for each of the three incremental blocks, starting with Block 1 in May 2009 and concluding with the fully capable Block 3 version in 2012.

Source: Flight International