In what qualifies as ‘better late than never’, the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II has begun ground testing its four-barrel GAU-22/A Gatling gun at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force hopes to start airborne test in September.
The F-35A’s gun was the target of criticism earlier, as development of hardware and software appeared to be moving along anything but fast. The gun fires 25 millimeter rounds, significantly larger than for example the F-16’s and F-15’s 20 millimeter gun. The A-version of the F-35 is the only variant to carry the gun internally. The F-35B and F-35C will both have to carry the gun in a pod, similar to the GAU-12 on the AV-8 Harrier in the United States Marine Corps (USMC), the type the F-35B is replacing.
First test started on 9 June, with shots fired from development aircraft AF-2 on the ground at the Edwards Gun Harmonizing Range. The tests are performed using practice rounds which do not explode on impact. AF-2 underwent four months of instrumentation modifications and had a line production gun installed for this project.
To protest the F-35A’s stealthy characteristics, the gun is completely built in internally. A door hides the barrel until the pilot pulls the trigger.
An operational gun capability will be added with a future block of software, which is in the beginning stages of testing at Edwards. The gun will be further tested with a line production jet sometime next year for full integration.
Good news for a troubled aircraft: the United States Marine Corps (USMC) for the first time during operational training, has dropped live weapons from its Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II aircraft. The aircraft and pilots involved, belong to Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-121 ‘Green Knights’.
The operational training was conducted from 22 June until 26 June from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona. A total of 14 pilots used six F-35Bs to employ both inert and high-explosive munitions. In total, 18 Guided Bomb Unit (GBU) 12s, and 12 GBU-32s were employed during the training. The weapons are the same as those dropped by legacy Marine Corps fixed-wing aircraft. The weapons were released over a Restricted Area in southeastern California.
The USMC’s fleet F-35Bs needs to demonstrate the ability to employ ordnance for the squadron to declare Initial Operating Capability (IOC). The squadron will be the very first squadron anywhere to reach IOC on the F-35.
Question marks remain around the 5th generation fighter aircraft however. A recent report this week said the type earlier this year was unable to beat the F-16 it replaces in close range dogfights. The F-35 Joint Program Office responded by saying the F-35 involved was not up to production standard and that the aircraft is designed with beyond visual range (BVR) combat in mind.
The US Navy said goodbye to the Grumman EA-6B Prowler during an airshow at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island near Seattle over the weekend. A Prowler of electronic attack squadron VAQ-134 ‘Garudas’ performed a ceremonial fly-over, marking the end of close to 45 years of EA-6B Prowler service in the US Navy.
The distinctively shaped EA-6B flew for the first time on 25 May 1968, entering service just three years later. The aircraft was derived from the A-6 Intruder attack aircraft and 170 were produced. The type played a key role in every major conflict the US was involved since, jamming transmission and locating radar sources.
Its final cruise aboard a US aircraft carrier ended in November last year. During the deployment, the Prowlers of VAQ-134 were used in allied operations over Iraq and Syria.
Being the final Prowler squadron, VAQ-134 now also says its goodbye to the imposing Prowler. The type is being replaced with the Boeing EA-18G Growler. The United States Marine Corps (USMC) still operates the Prowler.
The US Air Force depot at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, has completed upgrades to two United States Marine Corps (USMC) F-35B Lightning IIs, just weeks before the type is expected to reach Initial Operational Capability (IAC) with the USMC. The upgrade works last four months and took 24,000 man hours to complete.
The work required maintainers to overcome numerous challenges, said a spokeperson. “They removed sections of the aircraft that many thought would never be removed, they strengthened wing ribs and worked in areas that required rare micro-tolerances.”
The first upgraded Lockheed Martin F-35B performed a test flight on 18 June, also using its Short Take Off Vertical Landing (STOVL) capability at Hill. The second aircraft follows this week.
Both aircraft arrived at Hill for upgrades in February, remarkably with less than a week’s notice from the USMC. The Marines are expected to be the first to reach IOC with their F-35Bs. Recently, six aircraft deployed to sea for extenstive testing.
The somewhat odd-looking K-Max heavy-lift utility helicopter is back in production. Manufacturer Kaman Corporation announced the start of it on Friday 5 June, with the plants in Jacksonville (Florida) and Bloomfield (Connecticut) both active in the process. The first new K-Max is expected to fly out to its customer in Q1-2017.
The K-Max choppers are already used in the firefighting and logging business, where continuous aerial lift is required. Moreover, are two K-Max operational with the US Marine Corps where they have been turned into unmanned choppers by Lockheed Martin. Those USMC machines carried 4.5 million pounds of cargo during the military operations in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2014.
Launch customers of the new production K-Max include current users, like Rotex Helicopter of Switzerland and Helicopter Express of Chamblee, Georgia, USA. Rotex used the machines for forestry in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria and Germany. Rotex is ordered two new aircraft. Kaman expects the first 10 new K-Max choppers to give the company a revenue of 75 to 85 million dollar.
The original K-Max was certified for flight by the US Federal Aviation Administration in 1994. When the first production cycle ended in 2003 Kaman produced 38 machines.
The K-Max is a single-engine, single-seat helicopter, with a counter-rotating rotor system. It is optimized for external load operations with the need for vertical flight and known for its low-maintenance and operating costs, with about USD 1,200 per flight hour. The K-Max can lift up to 6,000 pounds (2,722 kg).