When Norway’s fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35As comes online in 2015, there will be little to distinguish them from jets belonging to the United States and other programme partners.
That will change after 2017, when the Scandinavian nation will be the first to receive a modular kit to equip its jets with drag chutes that help the aircraft land on icy Arctic runways. The chute, which the Netherlands and Canada also are eyeing as a modification to their F-35s, is the first aftermarket modification to the jets through seven low-rate initial production (LRIP) lots.
Norway will take delivery of its first F-35A in 2015, but testing on the chute will not begin for another two years. Until then, the Norwegians will train in the United States with “clean,” unmodified aircraft, Suku Kurien, Lockheed’s F-35 drag chute programme manager, tells Flightglobal.
Norway’s first jets – included in LRIPs 7 and 8 ‑ will be equipped with Lockheed’s Block 2B software configuration, which does not include the capability to deploy an arresting chute. Norwegian pilots still will train with the aircraft at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.
The necessary hardware modifications, including airframe reinforcements, are being performed on planes in the current LRIP 7 and 8, which Lockheed and the US government are negotiating. The Block 3F software that will allow for chute deployment, will be the standard configuration for all aircraft in LRIP lots 9 and beyond, Kurien says.
Chute testing will begin in 2017 when the aircraft designated AF-2 – currently performing load testing for the US air force’s conventional takeoff and landing F-35 variant – will be outfitted in 2017 with a pod containing the arresting chute. It will then undertake wet-dry performance and flight manoeuvring testing through November 2017, Kurien says.
Within a month of the completion of flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the aircraft will begin two to three months of testing in an arctic environment, likely at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. There the jet will land with and without the chute and test ground taxiing to gauge its manoeuvrability over wet, icy runways like those the Norwegian air force routinely operates from in winter months.
The chute’s design borrows heavily from those already used by Norway and other nations on the F-16 and Eurofighter Typhoon, Kurien says. Those aircraft use nylon chutes that will have to be made out of Kevlar to suit the F-35, on which the drag chute is deployed from above and behind the engine exhaust outlet.
Installed in the centre of the rear fuselage, the pod containing the chute can act like a miniature rudder based on wind-tunnel testing, Kurien says. The Norwegian jets, therefore, will undergo extensive flight testing with the pod installed. Data collected from the tests will be used to train pilot from other nations that buy F-35s with drag chutes, he says.
“In harsh manoeuvres with high angles of attack, it seems to be pretty invisible,” he says.
Norway intends to keep its pods installed permanently, but other nations like the Netherlands and Canada, can remove them in warmer months.