Photo Gallery: F-35’s First Night Flights

Lockheed Martin F-35A Performs First Night Flight

As the Marine Corps F-35B short take-off and vertical landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter comes off ‘probation” today, we thought we’d give you these pics of the A-model of jet making the JSF’s first ever-night flight on Jan. 19.

The pics show an an F-35A with a Lockheed test pilot at the helm making its first night (more like dusk) flight out of Edwards Air Force Base in California on Wednesday night. The jet took off at 5:05 PM and landed a little after sunset at 6:20 pm, according to Lockheed.

As for the B, well, there have been a ton of reports good and bad about it. It’s catching up on its flight test goals and made its first landings aboard an amphibious assault ship (it still has to deal with weight issues, those pesky bulkhead cracks and an overheating clutch). However, the C-model just became the center of F-35 bad press when reports emerged saying that among other flaws, it’s tailhook is too short to reach the arrestor wires on a carrier’s flight deck; the best part, there’s no easy solution to the problem. We’ll see what the year ahead brings for the program

Click through the jump for more photos of the F-35’s evening flight.

Lockheed Martin F-35A Performs First Night Flight

Lockheed Martin F-35A Performs First Night Flight

Lockheed Martin F-35A Performs First Night Flight

Lockheed Martin F-35A Performs First Night Flight

Lockheed Martin F-35A Performs First Night Flight

Lockheed Martin F-35A Performs First Night Flight

  • -dp

    “…it’s tailhook is too short to reach the arrestor wires on a carrier’s flight deck…”

    How do we get this far and something like this happens?

    • dimeck

      I totally agree! Ridiculous.

    • FormerDirtDart

      it isn’t so much the tailhook is to short, as it is to far forward. There isn’t enough time for the arresting cables to recover from the dynamic forces caused by the A/C passing over, to return an elevated position common with other A/C. The -35C’s requirement to enclose the tailhook during normal operations (not done on any other A/C) lead to the positioning forward.

      • tiger

        Let me guess? To be “stealthy,” The powers that be decided on a enclosed tailhook? This is kinda of a major thing for a Naval Aircraft. What happens when the doors jam & I can not lower my hook?

        • jumper

          explosive bolts

        • FormerDirtDart

          That’s probably the same moronic logic expressed when someone decided to install retractable landing gear or enclosed cockpits for the first time.

          • TGR

            Geez, you know?!? Look how bad those turned out!

          • FormerDirtDart

            Yes, retractable landing gear and enclosed cockpits are the bane of the aviation community, just as an arrester hook fully enclosed when retracted will obviously cause the end of naval aviation as we know it.

    • Glenn

      They forgot to change from metric to American feet and inches….

  • JEFF

    Anybody want to guess at how much this new design will cost? I’m going at least $20 Mil.

    • 4FingerofBourbon

      21 mil?

      • TGR

        Probably a lot more…

  • Brian Black

    The tailhook issue sounds pretty straight forward, but at least it gives the internets something to get hot and bothered about.

    • Tim

      Agree. Just change the damn hook. Lockheed did say that doing this will not compromise the structure of the aircraft, thus its stealthiness. But it is just what it is and the critics just have a field day until something else come up. It is still an aircraft under development after all.

      • -dp

        “…the best part, there’s no easy solution to the problem…”

        Just taking the article at face value (always dangerous), it doesn’t seem like it’s as easy as “just change the damn hook”. If it were, I’m sure they would have done it already.

        • Brian Black

          There’s been other more rounded articles elsewhere including comments from Lockheed; doesn’t seem to be a great problem to the overall programme.

          But you’re right, it’s not as easy as just changing the damn hook - still has to be designed and tested, but all part of an a carrier aircraft’s development.

    • TMB

      If it was straightforward, shouldn’t it have been one of the first things identified during design or initial flights? If not first thing, how about some point earlier than the 10th or 11th year of testing?

      • Brian Black

        The C model isn’t scheduled to land on a carrier until sometime in 2013. And it’s not as though it doesn’t work at all, but that the incident of failed pick-up is too high; I doubt though that F18’s hook catches on the ideal of 100% of landings.

  • Tad

    Very cool-looking with those turquoise lights. I wonder if they could come out with a model that has a Cylon light moving across the front. Now that would be awesome.

  • crackedlenses

    Wow, the F-35’s looks actually improve at night….

  • blight

    Needs more light, then it can be like Tron’s lightcycles.

  • Ross

    british government needs that facepalm picture..

    they abandon the B only to have the C mess up…the QE class carrier(s) are going to have nothing on them at this rate lol

    seconding the tron lightcycle idea.
    the cylon one should be used for UAV’s only..robots ‘n’ all…

    • Black Owl

      Not really. If they want a carrier-based strike aircraft they could buy the… Su-33MK.

      I bet no one was expecting me to suggest that. There is also another carrier-based aircraft that we are currently making and would be a good choice for the British to operate as well.

      • SJE

        In the interim, they can use F18s, and get experience with the US pilots already flying off carriers.

      • So?

        The production line for those closed many years ago. And, BTW, there is not a single structural part in common between the Su-33 and the other flankers, external likeness notwithstanding.

        • Black Owl

          I was entirely joking. The production line might be reopened actually. Russia has been testing the Su-33M, which is a totally revamped Su-33. Without being too specific they said they have been preparing it for export.

          • So?

            Some weren’t joking:…

            They can’t reopen the F-22 line which just closed. Anyway, the Su-33 was not an unmitigated success. I remember reading a Sukhoi engineer saying that while the Su-27 was a great plane, the Su-33 was merely good. Anyway, the PAK FA is reportedly designed with potential navalisation in mind. Its low-speed high-AoA performance and massive landing gear at least point to that.

          • Black Owl

            I was entirely joking. I completely oppose the use of Russian aircraft in the U.S. inventory for any reason, even if they are better in some areas. If we can make our own fighters, then by all means we should.

  • John Taylor

    With regard to the tailhook situation, checkout blog on ‘”.

  • Lance

    Beautiful pics.

  • Rob

    Nice bird.

  • Mitch S.

    Wonder if the problem with the hook might be traced to smart people using advanced tools who lack hard won experience.
    When did Lockheed build a carrier aircraft? I wonder if some old timers from Grumman or McDonnell were on the team might they have caught the issue before the planes were built.

    Fixing things like this are tougher on a stealth plane. You can’t just extend the hook without modifying the plane and having to recheck it’s stealthiness.
    Likewise you can’t easily add a cooling duct for the B’s clutch (if that’s what’s needed).
    I always thought the lift fan drivetrain (especially the clutch) and the rear nozzle (by RollsRoyce IIRC) looked like the toughest engineering challenges. Glad the nozzle seems to be ok, hope they find an easy fix for the clutch

    • Jer

      WHAT Lockheed hire old timers with knowhow, are you kidding. When I worked there all they wanted was the punk kids just out of collage, you know the ones that are more interested in texting and video games than doing their job. This is why the F-35 costs so much. Engineering was late to schedule much of the time. Don’t get me wrong there were some vey good engineers but the bad ones delayed the programs.

    • Steeljaw Scribe

      “When did Lockheed build a carrier aircraft?”
      S-3 Viking (including US-3 and ES-3A variants) - 188 of ’em between 74-78 that weren’t retired from service until 2009.

  • Ben

    Like many fighters, this jet looks somewhat ugly in the daylight, but sleek and deadly in the dark!

  • Dan Gao

    I am team JSF, but I agree that things like that tailhook issue are maddeningly frustrating.

    Great news re: Pannetta lifting the B’s probation.

  • Anon E Moose

    “…it’s tailhook is too short to reach the arrestor wires on a carrier’s flight deck…”
    What makes that statement SO hilarious is that ‘some’ people will actually believe it’s true.

  • RED Tomlinson

    I’ve seen one hell of a lot of carrier landings, I was on the flight deck of theUSS AMERICA CVA/CV-66 for four years. I was a winger with the S-3A Vikings. If memory serves the shortest hook was on the E2s and they still managed to land. But its not the total length, its how far it drops to the deck. They have to worry if the cables will crash into the tail of the plane. But after seeing a US-2C take the wire with the “hook up” I know the designers will think of an answer to the hook problem.

  • Black Owl

    I am banging my head against my desk right now trying to forget what I just read.

  • yoohoo

    They can add some kind of hydraulic extender to the tail hook, but then it would probably snap from the force of the pull and have to be inspected after every flight.

  • superraptor

    Folks,, there bettter be good news about the F-35 such as successful high g-maneuvers, high angle of attack maneuvers and no thermal management issues and some fixes of the myriad of so far identifed engineering disasters by the end of this year which has only 10 month to go, or the F-35 will be a goner particulary with sequestration becoming a certainty unless the GOP accepts some tax increases. An upgraded block 3 SH will have to do for the Navy and will be forced on the USAF.

    • passingby

      You can forget about high-g. Never gonna happen. You can also forget about solving the real problems in 10 months. 10 years, maybe, maybe not. But definitely not 10 months. The F-35 is a fundamentally flawed project from the very beginning.

  • Andrew

    Well here’s to hoping even if the F-35 gets shitcanned the DAS system gets some real testing, the potential of it, especially in high off boresight fighting, was always pretty amazing.

  • Jacob

    Why doesn’t the F-35 pilot take some pictures of the chase plane for a change?

  • ELP

    Hurr Durr F-35 should have bought F-18’s hurr durr F-18’s

    (repeat like broken record)

  • CAL


  • Jesse

    My home, the high desert :)

  • bill

    The hydraulic hook extender is a good idea, but I think a more pure mechanical device would withstand the stress much better. As for the clutch, maybe re-routing or increasing some type of cooling fluid may address that problem. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

  • Elijah


  • chuckbdc

    Awaiting proposals fo new taller carriers to remedy the hook problem.