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Testing the F-35 Lightning II

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Trap! An F-35C takes the wire at Patuxent River. (Image © Lockheed Martin / Dane Wiedmann)

It was an important week for the F-35 Lightning II, US aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin reported on Friday 30 May. In three separate flight tests on May 27, the new fighter demonstrated air-to-air combat capability, completed the first flight test with the next level software load and accomplished a landing at the maximum test speed and drop rate.

In the Point Mugu Sea Test Range airspace off the Central California coast, an F-35B demonstrated the jet’s air-to-air combat capability when it sequentially engaged two aerial targets with two AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) during a Weapon Delivery Accuracy mission.

Test pilot Lt. Col. Andrew ‘Growler’ Allen tracked two maneuvering drone targets, making the very first dual AMRAAM shot from any F-35 variant, and the first live AMRAAM shot from the F-35B Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant.

The U.S. Marine Corps operates F-35Bs and will be the first military service branch to attain combat-ready Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2015.

F-35A
Flying from Edwards Air Force Base, an F-35A flew a 1.9 hour mission with the first-ever load of Block 3i hardware and software. Block 3i is the next level of capability and is planned to support U.S. Air Force F-35A IOC in 2016.

F-35C
The F-35C, designed for aircraft carrier operations, completed a landing at its maximum sink speed to test the aircraft’s landing gear, airframe and arrestment system at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.  Five sorties were conducted, building up the maximum sink rate test condition of 21.4 feet per second. During the tests, the F-35C did three arrestments, several touch and goes and one bolter. The landings were to demonstrate structural readiness for arrested landings on an aircraft carrier at sea.

Fleet-wide, the F-35 has, to date, amassed more than 17,000 flight hours, with all three variant aircraft at the F-35 Integrated Training Center at Eglin AFB, Florida, surpassing the 5,000 sorties milestone this week.

The U.S. Air Force and Navy intend to attain IOC on the F-35 Lightning II in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Source: Lockheed Martin