17 December 2006
17 December 2006
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II lifted into the skies for the first time on Friday, completing a successful inaugural flight and initiating a comprehensive flight test program.
""The Lightning II performed beautifully,"" said F-35 Chief Pilot Jon Beesley following the flight. ""What a great start for the flight-test program, and a testimony to the people who have worked so hard to make this happen.""
The flight of the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35 variant began at 12:44 p.m. CST at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, when the jet lifted off and began a climb-out to 15,000 feet. Beesley then performed a series of manoeuvres to test aircraft handling and the operation of the engine and subsystems. He returned for a landing at 1:19 p.m CST. Two F 16s and an F/A-18 served as chase aircraft.
The stealthy F-35 is a supersonic, multi-role, 5TH Generation fighter designed to replace a wide range of existing aircraft, including AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and United Kingdom Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers.
Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, said the aircraft has continued to meet or exceed expectations during its assembly and pre-flight checkouts. It has now embarked on a 12,000-hour flight-test program designed to validate tens of thousands of hours of testing already completed in F-35 laboratories. ""The F-35 will enter service as the most exhaustively tested, most thoroughly proven fighter system in history,"" Crowley said. ""And thanks to its all-digital design, an exceptionally talented international engineering team and the world's best assemblers and mechanics, the F-35 has completely rewritten the book on fighter assembly precision and quality.""
The United States and eight international partners are involved the F-35's funding and development. The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force and Royal Navy plan to acquire a total of 2,581 F-35s. Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway also are partners in the program and are expected to add about 700 more aircraft to the total.
Three versions of the F-35 are under development: a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant for conventional runways, a short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant for operating off small ships and near front-line combat zones, and a carrier variant (CV) for catapult launches and arrested recoveries on board the U.S. Navy's large aircraft carriers.