Lockheed Martin's first F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) completed its third flight last week, amid signs that the programme is gaining a more secure budget footing. The Department of Defense has directed the US Air Force and Navy to budget for the procurement of 12 aircraft in fiscal year 2008, keeping the JSF programme in line with plans set by Congress last year.
Chief test pilot Jon Beesley retracted the landing gear for the first time during the 62min second flight on 8 January, which followed the F-35's curtailed first flight on 15 December. The aircraft reached 20,000ft (6,100m) and Mach 0.7. The hour-long third flight followed two days later.
The start of flight testing has brought fresh confidence to the programme, which struggled last year with funding for the transition from development to production. In the end, Congress allocated funds for two F-35s in FY07 and 12 in FY08 fewer than the five and 18 originally requested, but enough to keep the JSF on track to meet its initial operational capability dates.
JSF international partner nation Norway, meanwhile, is scheduled to sign the memorandum of understanding on the production, sustainment and follow-on development phase on 19 January, followed by Turkey on 25 January. The nations will join Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and UK, which all signed the agreement late last year.
Remaining partners Denmark and Italy are expected to sign by the end of January, says the JSF programme office.
The landing gear was retracted for the first time on the F-35's second flight