Lockheed Martin’s first F-35B short take-off and vertical landing Joint Strike Fighter will make its flight debut in “mid-summer”, despite a recent blade failure suffered by its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, says George Standridge, Lockheed’s vice-president F-35 business development.
Originally scheduled to make its debut sortie in late May, aircraft BF-1 has recently concluded ground vibration testing, having left the fuel barn at the Lockheed’s Fort Worth site in Texas (pictured below) in late December. “It looks like it’s going to be a good flier,” says Standridge.
The aircraft is the first weight-optimised F-35, having had (3,000lb) of weight removed from its original design, and Standridge says “the suppliers are catching up to the demands of that design.” A second STOVL test aircraft will roll out in April, with the type scheduled to achieve initial operating capability with the US Marine Corps in 2012 and the UK during 2017.
After completing initial flight tests at Fort Worth, BF-1 will be flown to the US Navy’s Patuxent River test facility in Maryland late this year, with its first STOVL transition planned to take place in December or early 2009.
Lockheed’s first conventional take-off and landing F-35A has meanwhile now completed 32 test flights, with recent work having focused on expanding AA-1’s flight envelope following its return to flight late last year. “The aircraft continues to retire risk, and is setting unprecedented marks for reliability,” says Standridge. Lockheed expects to commence inflight refuelling trials with the aircraft in the near future, he adds.
Speaking at the Singapore air show, Standridge played down concerns over anticipated differences in the F-35’s stealth performance between the USA and its six JSF partner nations. “Every partner has been briefed on the capabilities of their aircraft, and they have no issues with it. Once you see what the aircraft does in the classified environment there are no issues.” The first F-35s could be available for foreign military sales customers in 2014, he adds.
A mockup of the JSF F-35 at the Singapore Airshow 2008