Lockheed Martin is currently in talks to more than double this year the number of flight tests for the F-35 programme compared to 2010.

During Lockheed's year-end earnings webcast with stock market analysts on 27 January, chief executive Robert Stevens said the test requirements for 2011 are still being discussed with the joint programme office.

"But we are currently looking at 872 flights in total," Stevens said, noting the F-35 test fleet has recorded 36 flights in the first 27 days of the year.

Until Stevens' statement, Lockheed and programme officials had not disclosed this year's flight test goal.

Last year, the F-35 completed 410 test flights during the calendar year, resulting in 547 flights since the first takeoff by the AA-1 flight test aircraft in December 2006.

If the F-35 programme sticks with the 872 flight test goal, the cumulative total of 1,455 flight tests would retire about 30% of the programme's total number of flight tests on schedule.

The number, however, reflects the slower pace of progress expected after two programme restructurings since 1 February last year caused by testing and manufacturing delays.

Last June, programme officials expected to complete about 1,000 flight tests in 2011, which was already lowered from the previous year's plan.

Lockheed has delivered 10 of the 13 flight test aircraft in the original programme.

Source: Flight International