First Production Model F-35A Takes to the Skies

A new chapter in the history of U.S. Air Force fighters began yesterday when the service’s fist production model F-35 Joint Strike Fighter took to the skies at Lockheed’s Fort Worth, TX., facility for the very first time.

Yes, the program’s had its troubles and the Marines’ B-model is nowhere near ready for production but this marks the beginning of the program becoming an operational reality. This flight paves the way for Air Force instructor pilots to start flying the jets at Eglin Air Force Base, in Florida starting this May. This means, believe or not, we’re finally going to see operational F-35s. Still, it’s gonna be a while. The IOC date for the Air Force remains 2016.

From a Lockheed announcement of the flight:

The first production model of the Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] F-35 Lightning II made its inaugural flight today in preparation for delivery to the U.S. Air Force this spring. The jet will head to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to support developmental testing shortly after the Air Force takes delivery.

“The aircraft was rock-solid from takeoff to landing, and successfully completed all the tests we put it through during the flight,” said Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Bill Gigliotti. “The Air Force is getting a great jet that represents a huge leap in capability, and we’re looking forward to getting it into the hands of the service pilots in just a few more weeks.”

During the flight, the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A variant, known as AF-6, underwent basic flight maneuvering and engine tests. Test Pilot Gigliotti took off from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base at 3:05 p.m. CST and landed at 4:05 p.m. The jet will continue flight tests in Fort Worth for about a month before it is accepted by the Air Force.

 

  • @Earlydawn

    I’m hoping that the postponement of the B finally helped the A and C get out of the mud.

  • slntax

    i dont get it what about the PBS battle of the stealth planes show? the one that showed the f35 flying a few years ago? you can still see it now on hulu. what that just a sham model

    • blight

      Prototype?

    • Atomic Walrus

      That was the X-35. It demonstrated the F-35 concept, but there’s a huge difference between a demonstrator and service aircraft.

  • asdf

    f-35 should be set up just like the eurofighter - a2a first, everything else second. too bad, it’s more of a rafale instead (jack of…). and the front sector stealth was screwed from the beginning, i agree. at that time it was done to keep the best to themselves (usa), but the world moved on and there are now new VLO designs everywhere (taranis, neuron, pak fa).. the former two are also good tech demonstrators for future needs.
    and to think that you can stuff three services’ needs along with stealth and internal weapons bays is just nuts (without STOVL would probably be better, since the engine could be optimized for fast transonci or SC).

    what about the PBS? this plane is actually different, as lockheed admitted it couldn’t be built as the x-35 was. wiki -> jsf

    • William C.

      The F-35 should be a true multi-role fighter with ground attack capabilities matching and surpassing that of the F-16C/D and F-15E.

      The F-22 is the aircraft that should be the the air-superiority thoroughbred

  • IG_RYTFLANK

    FINALLY…

  • Mike

    This is what the DoD wanted, they didn’t want to buy 3 different jets; they wanted something that could try doing 3 different things. The only upside is what future Administrations will allow Lockheed do in the future as each variant of the aircraft is to allow to mature as technology improves; like the usage of more thermoplastics like Boeing had thought to do with their X-32, future F-35Bs could feature more thermoplastic and composite materials to lessen the overall weight to continue improving the STOVL functions with the F-35A/C receiving thrust vectoring exhaust for improved maneuvering.

  • Sanem

    this is a great plaine, without a doubt. but it is utterly outdated

    by the end of the decade, it’ll have to compete with UCAVs with supirior stealth and range, at half the cost or less and no human lives to risk. sort of a re-usable cruise missile

    by then the technology will have matured and proven itself as reliable as any manned aircraft, if not more so. speaking in political, economical and military terms, there is simply no competing with an aircraft that risks no pilots, costs half or less to buy and operate, and gives the same or better performance but can stay on-site longer

    • Tom

      believe me it will be another decade or two untli we see your star wars dreams becoming reality.

    • blight

      The weaknesses of the UCAV are based on diminished SA and satellite latency. I imagine most of you saw the IBM Watson jeopardy thing; which proves that computers are capable of making decisions on “solutions” based on an external input and searching their own databases for a logical outcome. Granted Toronto has nothing to do with Chicago’s midway airport, but it really is only a matter of time before aircraft can make their own decisions. Bring on the Skynet!

    • jhm

      dude, what will we fly in that decade??????????? aging f16sf15s adn a hadnful of f22s, hella no.

  • Bug

    Yes Sanem that’s why all the customers are dropping the F-35 and going for UCAV’s instead. Oh wait, no they’re not, they’ve stuck with the program and non have cancelled and replaced with UCAV’s nor does any customer appear to want to drop it in the future for UCAV’s.

    • Stratege

      Modern day UCAVs ARE NOT ABLE to replace manned air superiority and multi-role aircraft. Apple and oranges.

  • Sanem

    @ Bug, you’re talking about the same customers that wanted the F-22, the Typhoon, the B-2… even after the cold war, we all know how that ended up

    the UK reduced and changed their order of F-35Bs to a handful of F-35C
    that is asuming the USN will actually take the F-35C, the same USN that skipped on the F-111, and is currently the world leader in developing UCAVs with their UCAS-N
    the RN would be more than happy to buy the X-47B. or BAE is more than eager to develop a marine version of the Typhoon, together with India

    Norway had a “fair” competition, but used a $50 million unit cost for the F-35, even though it was know at the time that this figure was complete hocus. oops. and they still insist it’s the “best aircraft for the best price”, that’s just sad

    the Dutch Air Force is pushing for their 80 F-35s, even though they’ve known for years that there won’t be enough money. the Dutch government is having serious discussions and keeps postponing the decision on even buying a test aircarft. not exactly a vote of confidence

    Japan seems to linger between the F-35 and the Typhoon, but if the F-22 line does get re-opened they’ll pay through the nose for those. or develop their own fighter, or UCAV, the EU will be more than pleased to let them build their own version of the Taranis/Neuron, or one from Boeing or NG

    the only aircraft builder still focusing on manned jets at this point are LMT, India, the Chinese, the Russians. the other US and EU companies focus on modernizing existing aircraft and UCAVs

    UCAVs will become an option by the end of the decade; expect F-35 orders to be cut. I’m just trying to save western governments money, my money, by not wasting any on a failed white elephant

    @ Stratege, “modern day UCAVs” don’t exist. the X-47B just made a first flight for the type. it’s not yet capable of conducting full operations, but than neither is the F-35 :D

    will these be able to conduct the same missions as manned aircraft? who knows, it’s technically feasable, but as yet unproven, I can imagine many pilots don’t want to see it proven, than who’ll pay millions so they kind zip around the sky?

    remember, the Predator was a purely recon aircraft for over a decade, today it’s a vital attack aircraft. technology is catching up, and the F-35 will be the last gasp of a dying breed

  • Alex

    ““The aircraft was rock-solid from takeoff to landing, and successfully completed all the tests we put it through during the flight,” said Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Bill Gigliotti

    Has anyone ever heard a test pilot ever say anything else ? Even on programs with highly troubled aircraft …

  • tribulationtime

    Jesus!!!!! How impresive firepower…..2 bombs (jdam nor a imaginary “deathray” bombs, If only considering performance of the weapon, inherent accuracy, letallity, etc how many bombs need to destroy a desployed mech div, for example; and made the maths) and 2 am-120 ( If only fails 20% of missile you need 10 F-35 for destroy 8 Su-30MK ) only for 130 millions. U S A…U S A…..U S A

    • tribulationtime

      Wrong Maths!!!…but understable argue?

  • DanS

    Anyone who thinks the F-22 line will be reopened is crazy. I live in Atlanta, associate with senior LocMar exec’s, and its done, over, finito, kaput. Forget about it. There will be spares made for the existing aircraft, but the company itself has moved on, time every one else does to.

  • doc91

    only two bombs huh?

    • William C.

      Two 2,000 lb JDAMs and two AIM-120s. Once the skies are clear the F-35 can carry bombs externally however.

      It’s not a huge internal payload, but you can’t do much more with an aircraft of this size. You can’t do everything with single-engined fighters after all, although Gates seems to think that is the case.

  • William C.

    Regarding UCAVs consider that one of the biggest problems during the F-35’s development has been developing the software for everything. Now imagine tripling that amount of code for a multi-role UCAV. Also, the ability for UAVs to perform autonomous operations is still rather limited. This would be a problem when you can’t rely on clear communications back to wherever the UCAVs are being controlled from.

    The X-47B is a ground attack and tactical reconnaissance platform. It may be able to carry AIM-9X Sidewinders for self-defense but it won’t be able to clear the skies like a F-22A. It is a purely subsonic too.

  • FtD

    with the money spent on F35 R&D, i believe it won’t be impossible to develop a F22B/C 2 seater & 2 seater carrier versions with rear seat RIO. During initial phase, the F22A/C clearing the sky of enemy fighters, F22B/C then can network with UAV sent from AWAC to deliver HARM/hellfire/SDB for SEAD missions then another wave of UAV can deliver JDAM/SDB for interdiction whilst the F22s still can perform CAP function… all in an integrated single platform manned aircraft & UAV without the need for F35.

  • roland

    We (USA) need to straignthen our defenses. There is a possible threat in the Korean peninsula brewing. After North Korea’s recent threat to the South Korea.

  • Sanem

    @ nraddin on time delay, this is a problem. when firing a missile at an insurgent truck, Predator pilots not only have to fight the time delay, but also the inability to cancel the attack once the missile is fired. a serious problem if suddenly an old man or some kids on bikes walk by

    but when attacking a fixed, military target (the main target for UCAVs), the time delay is of little or no consequence. in this role a UCAV can penetrate enemy defences and attack multiple targets or loiter, unlike a cruise missile, at a lower unit and operational cost than a cruise missile or an F-35

    the second point is that current UAVs use satellite links, but the next generation may very well use HALE UAVs or airships to communicate to nearby bases or ships, reducing the time lag. as UCAVs will be MUCH more autonomous, you want need as much man power or skill, and the cost on human resources will be much lower

    @ Belesari, on air to air, it has already happened, in 2003, a Predator engaged in air to air combat with a Iraqi MiG. the Predator lost, but that was because it’s missile failed. afterwards the Iraqi’s stopped engaging drones in the air, because they feared they would shoot back. so even if the drone failed to win the air combat, the threat alone won air surpemacy. the only thing better than defeating an enemy, is an enemy that gives up, ask the Vietnamese or the Afghans

    even if the X-47B won’t be able to dog fights (but who’s to say it won’t?), in the current age of long range missile duels, a stealthy, expendable aircraft with some missiles is a serious long range threat, kind of like a hidden, flying SAM battery

    @ William C on X-47B vs F22, the UCAV will cost $50? million a piece? the Raptor is rated at $300+ million. so you get 6 UCAVs for the price of one Raptor. and the UCAVs can stay in the air for days, preferebly over enemy air bases, just waiting for the enemy to launch an aircraft, engaging it instantly, probably using external targetting data so they don’t need active sensors that’ll give away their location. not as fancy as an F-22, but more effective, and certainly more efficient

  • tribulationtime

    hey!! you delete my post?. My final sarcastic joke? or very dnagerous perpectives?. Why dont banned me? and made sure others readers Knows? Or you dont going shows this one either.

  • blight

    Eventually we need to investigate conformal weapon mounting points that can accomodate conventional missiles in a detachable pod, or a conformal mount accommodating a conformal missile to reduce aerodynamic drag and not add to RCS.