Lockheed Martin has unveiled the first naval variant for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programme in a roll-out ceremony at its final assembly plant in Fort Worth, Texas.

'"It's an honour and a privilege and it is a great day", says Adm Gary Roughhead, chief of naval operations. The US Navy plans to operate 260 F-35C carrier variants among the 2,443 aircraft in the current US programme.

"This airplane will top anything that comes it's way," Roughead adds.

 real F-35C
© Neal Chapman/Lockheed Martin

The first prototype CV model to roll off the production line - CF-1 - follows the debut of a conventional variant for the US Air Force in December 2006 and a short take-off and vertical landing F-35B in June 2008.

The naval variant uses the same propulsion system as the air force fighter, but adds other modifications, including an expanded wing and strengthened landing gear.

The F-35C will be the first tactical aircraft to enter naval service in the USA for several decades that is powered by a single engine. It will also be the first carrier-based jet fighter featuring all-aspect stealth.

The navy's first F-35C unit is scheduled to enter service in fiscal year 2015, although one Pentagon estimate projects a two-year delay.

The CF-1 prototype model is now expected to start flight tests in late December, reflecting a three-month schedule slip. It is projected to be the fourth F-35 prototype to enter flight test, following the non-production configuration AA-1, and STOVL aircraft BF-1 and BF-2.

Source: FlightGlobal.com