F-35 fighter program reaches three testing milestones in one day

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Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II— the most sophisticated fighter aircraft ever built — reached thee flight milestones in one day last week in test flights around the U.S.

The main battery of testing occurred on May 27 at the Point Mugu Sea Test Range airspace, located off the Central California coast.

According to a statement from Lockheed Martin, the fifth generation aircraft met three crucial goals: verified air-to-air combat capability, finished the first flight test with next level software load and accomplished a landing at maximum test speeds and drop rate.

The F-35 series combines advanced stealth technology with fighter speed and agility, to perform ground attack, reconnaissance, and air defense missions.

During testing, the F-35B demonstrated air-to-air combat capability during a Weapon Delivery Accuracy mission as it engaged a pair of individual aerial targets with two AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM).

Tracking two maneuvering drone targets, test pilot Lt. Col. Andrew ‘Growler’ Allen made history with the first dual AMRAAM shot from any F-35 model, as well as the first live AMRAAM shot from the F-35B Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant.

“The U.S. Marine Corps will be the first military service branch to attain combat-ready Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2015,” said J.D. McFarlan, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for F-35 Test & Verification.

McFarlan added that the accuracy test proved the F-35 would give Marine aviators a “decisive combat edge in contested airspace.”

With internal AIM-120 AMRAAM systems, the air-to-air missiles are capable of all-weather day-and-night operations, providing a radar guided “fire-and-forget” missile.

Flying out of Edwards Air Force Base, located in the high-deserts north of Los Angeles, the F-35A flew a nearly two -hour mission, testing the latest Block 3i hardware and software. Block 3i is the next level of capacity, will be required to support the U.S. Air Force F-35A fleet in 2016.

Another version of the multirole aircraft, designed for use from aircraft carriers using short takeoff/vertical landing, also reached another benchmark on May 27. The F-35C, testing at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, landed at maximum sink speed to assess the aircraft’s landing gear, airframe and arrestment system.

“Five sorties were conducted, building up the maximum sink-rate test condition of 21.4 feet per second, which represents the maximum sink speed planned for this test,” said McFarlan.

The F-35C performed three arrestments, several “touch-and-goes” and one “bolter,” each determined the structural readiness for landings on an aircraft carrier at sea.

To date, the three variants of the F-35 have logged in more than 17,000 flight hours, most of which was at the F-35 Integrated Training Center at Eglin AFB, Florida, where they reached another milestone of 5,000 hours last week.

Principally funded by the U.S., with additional funding from partner nations such as NATO members or close U.S. allies, is designed to replace the A-10 and F-16 for the U.S. Air Force, the F-18 for the U.S. Navy, the F-18 and AV-8B Harrier for the U.S. Marine Corps. It is also expected to be in use in at least 10 other countries.

Lockheed Martin, the principal contractor on the F-35 project, employs almost 113,000 people worldwide, with net sales in 2013 of $45.4 billion.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.