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Your F-35 Flight Test Update

by John Reed on May 8, 2012

Here’s your latest update on the unsinkable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program’s flight testing from Lockheed Martin — who just yesterday received a $237 million contract from the Pentagon to fix design problems with the jet that were discovered during testing.

Among the highlights of this announcement is the fact that the plane just passed the 15,000 test point mark, meaning that it has completed 25 percent of its total — System Development and Design — test program.

Here’s the word from Lockheed:

FORT WORTH, Texas, May 8, 2012 – Lockheed Martin’s [NYSE: LMT] F-35 Lightning II flight test program continues to make progress during the first four months of 2012​.In March, the program completed 123 test flights totaling 223 flight hours, setting a record for the most System Development and Demonstration (SDD) flights and flight hours for a single month.During the time period, the SDD fleet surpassed the 15,000 total test point threshold, completing approximately 25 percent of the SDD program’s entire requirement of more than 59,000 test points. Overall the F-35 test program remains ahead of the 2012 flight test plan, which calls for the accumulation of 1,001 test flights and 7,873 baseline test points as well as additional points beyond the original plan.

April 30, the program completed 373 flights against a plan of 281and achieved 2,810 test points – 2,307 of which were baseline points earned against a plan of 2,151. At Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., 30 local area orientation flights were completed totaling 39.5 flight hours as progress toward F-35 pilot training checkout continues.

Another aspect of flight testing is the progressive check out of the latest version of mission system software known as Block 2A.  To date, more than 90 percent of Block 2A airborne software code is complete with more than 85 percent of that code currently being flight or lab tested.  Block 2A flight test is being conducted at Edwards AFB and will continue through this year.  Block 2A is scheduled for “ready for training” in the summer of 2013.

“The 2012 F-35 flight test program execution continues to build momentum,” said Orlando Carvalho, F-35 executive vice president and general manager. “From flight envelope expansion to night refueling to external weapons testing, our flight test program is off to a good start this year. We are working to build on this success and deliver unprecedented 5th generation fighter performance capabilities – including radar-evading stealth, supersonic speed, extreme agility and the most comprehensive integrated sensor package of any fighter aircraft in history – to our Armed Forces and allies.”

The F-35 program has accomplished many flight test, production and training milestones since Jan. 1:

  • On Jan. 17, demonstrating the ongoing maturation of the F-35 integrated sensor suite, AF-3, an F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) test jet, completed the first low Distributed Aperture System (DAS) approach.
  • On Jan. 18, the first night flight in the history of the F-35 program was completed at Edwards AFB, Calif.
  • On Feb. 16, at Edwards AFB, Calif., AF-1, an F-35A CTOL test jet, flew the first external weapons test mission in F-35 program history.
  • On March 6, the 33d Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Fla., flew its first local F-35 Lightning II sortie, marking a major milestone.
  • On March 22, AF-4, an F-35A CTOL jet, completed the first night refueling missionwhen it successfully connected to an Air Force KC-135 tanker and received fuel through the F-35’s boom receptacle.
  • On March 28, BF-4, an F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) test jet based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., completed the first F-35 flight with two unarmed air intercept missiles known as AIM-120 Instrumentation Measurement Vehicles (IMVs).  The IMVs are used to measure environmental influences such as temperature, vibration and acoustics of the aircraft on the weapon to ensure they do not impact the weapon’s ability to be carried and employed by the aircraft.
  • On April 1, the first F-35 Lightning II for the Netherlands rolled out of the F-35 production facility. The Netherlands will use this CTOL jet, known as AN-1, for training and operational tests for pilots and maintainers.
  • On April 5, the program completed in-flight refueling of an F-35B STOVL while configured with external weapons at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The mission tested the flying qualities of the aircraft while maneuvering with external weapons.
  • On April 10, two F-35A CTOLs from the 33d Fighter Wing assigned to Eglin AFB, Fla., completed the unit’s first formation flight. The mission was part of a continuing process to validate pilot syllabus objectives in preparation for future training.
  • On April 11, an F-35A CTOL from the 33d Fighter Wing assigned to Eglin, AFB, Fla., completed the unit’s first air-to-air refueling mission with a KC-135R Stratotanker.
  • On April 13, BK-1, the United Kingdom’s first F-35 Lightning II production aircraft, flew its inaugural flight. The U.K. Ministry of Defence will use this short takeoff/vertical landing jet for training and operational tests at Eglin AFB, Fla., beginning later this year.
  • On April 18, for the first time, two F-35C Lightning II carrier variant test aircraft launched together and conducted formation flying at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The mission tested flying qualities of the aircraft while taking off, landing and flying in formation for more than one hour.
  • On April 21, the program completed the first in-flight refueling of F-35A CTOL aircraft while configured with external weapons at Edwards AFB, Calif.The two-hour mission tested the flying qualities of the aircraft while maneuvering with external weapons.

Cumulative flight test activity totals for 2012 through April 30 are provided below:

·         F-35A CTOL jets have flown 164 times.
·         F-35B STOVL aircraft have completed 122 flights, 114 of which began with a short takeoff. Additionally, F-35B STOVL aircraft have conducted 49 vertical landings.
·         F-35C carrier variant (CV) jets have flown 87 times.

Cumulative flight test activity totals for the duration of the program through April 30 are provided below:

·         F-35A CTOL jets have flown 811 times.
·         F-35B STOVL aircraft have completed 711 flights, 533 of which began with a short takeoff. F-35B STOVL aircraft have also conducted 328 vertical landings.
·         F-35C CV jets have flown 279 times.

Since December 2006, F-35s have flown 2,066 times and accrued more than 3,000 cumulative flight hours. This total includes 91 flights from the original test aircraft, AA-1; 1,801 SDD test flights; and 174 production-model flights.

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{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

boswell May 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm

If my firm makes an error in a design, we correct it. And we don't get a new contract to do it either. Granted, we aren't designing 5th gen strike fighters, but it seems wrong to me to pay somebody extra to fix an error that they themselves are responsible for.

I am not aware of the intricacies of how the DoD lets R&D contracts, but why not require a fully functional design at a fixed price, at the end of the R&D period? How a firm gets there is their problem, and any design problems that crop up along the way would be ironed out by the firm in order to deliver a functional design as required by the fixed price contract. Would a contract of this nature just be so risky that no firm would step forward to do the work?

That said, nice photo.


Anonymous May 8, 2012 at 2:00 pm

That's what we call corporate welfare. They gone done and messed up - we reward them for it. In this case, it's the MIC that is on welfare.


Kool Guy May 8, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Even in regular business, there are rarely any producers that would sell on fixed price, because that would hurt them big time with inflation.


boswell May 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm

That's fine and I understand. I guess if R&D didn't take 20 years we wouldn't have to worry about inflation. But I feel that that is a different issue.

It just seems like there's got to be a better way then whipping out the checkbook everytime LM busts the design. At this point, LM has DoD firmly by the balls since the JSF is too big to fail; it practically encourages LM to make design errors, since DoD simply has no choice but to fund the re-design.

There is obviously some sort of contractual mechanism in-place which is justified as protecting LM from the inevitable risks of developing something on the bleeding edge of technology. But where is the limit? I guess this is what you get when you put all your eggs in one basket.


Skyepapa May 8, 2012 at 5:01 pm

This is cost plus procurement at work. The original contract stipulates which costs are eligible, and over which a previously agreed-to margin will be calculated. So, apparently DOD decided that whatever it is they just gave LM 200 something mil for is an acceptable cost under the terms. Can't blame LM for negotiating a good contract. I'm sure your finance people would love to have the industry equity to demand these kinds of terms.


Kool Guy May 8, 2012 at 8:22 pm

I see your points and where your coming from, but different industries got its different sets of rules. For example, we look at India and its purchase of a renovated carrier from Russia. The price was already confirmed and the contract was signed. Then after a while Russia said price increased, n India has to pay almost double the price on the contract. sometimes different business uses different rules to operate that we find it weird based on our interpretation. For example, look at apple and Samsung. They’re like arch rival in business and they constantly going to lawsuits against each other, but on the other hand apple uses many hardwares that are produced by Samsung for its iPhone, regardless of the lawsuits. So we all find it a little but maybe that’s a normal practice in d industry


Jeff May 9, 2012 at 6:33 am

Every place I've ever worked where the work is a contract to develope a product those companies do assume some risk but so does the person who's contracted us to do R&D.

What you're talking about is analogous to paying a day worker for quota as opposed to an hourly rate… you could do it that way, but its a matter of contract and you can't gurantee you'll find someone. The US Government isn't buying something off the shelf, its setting goals based on "needs" and asking for the creation of something that never existed. The economic are that there are only 2 or 3 companies in the world that could do this program, that puts the Government in a position where it can only leverage quantity to bring down price. If Lockheed, Boeing, and Northrop said "No" to the F-35 and F-22, purely on how the contract was written, where else could the Government go for the mass production of advanced aircraft?

R&D is like following a map, just because you have direction and fixed duration you desire to get somewhere doesn't mean you won't hit traffic jams or have to pull over for emergency vehicles, or run out of gas.


Chuck May 9, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Of course, you have to consider that USAF, USN, et al all agreed on the design. Now they want it changed. So you think LockMart should pay out of pocket to make a change that the government didn't want before, but now wants?


citanon May 10, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Your firm isn't producing something with over a million moving parts, structures, and materials spanning 9 orders of magnitude in length scales and time, operating at performance parameters never previously achieved, using intricate designs that have never before been attempted, to operate in threat environments of unprecedented lethality.

In short, you do not do what Lockheed Martin does. Not only are you not in the same league, you are not even on the same plane of existence.

The DoD does not require fully functional fixed price designs because that would make it IMPOSSIBLE for anyone to deliver on what THEY ask for: namely, the most complex, cutting edge, high performance war machine that man kind can product 10 years AFTER they start development.

There are two ways that DoD can do things:

-You pay a fixed price to buy a product which exists. This is great because you get immediately what you paid for at the price that you expected to pay. The downside is that your adversaries can do the same and when they do so and learn to operate them properly you face the possibility of DEFEAT with your own guys dying in prodigious numbers.

-You pay industry to develop a technological miracle that is willed into existence by the sheer financial, industrial and scientific might of your society and is unmatched by any thing that a lesser society could possibly produce. The upside is that it is much more difficult for adversaries to obtain the same capabilities, your chances of winning goes way up and chances of your guys dying go way down. The downside is that you cannot buy a miracle at a fixed (and low) price. Miracles cost years, tears, blood, genius, and billions of dollars in cost over runs.



McPosterdoor May 8, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Have they tested C-model single engine failure on carrier approach? Oh wait… never mind.


tiger May 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Their are plenty of single engine jets & a long history in service. The twin enigne is no big deal.


STemplar May 8, 2012 at 3:03 pm

I think he was referring to, can it even land on a carrier yet.


Skyepapa May 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Sure, it just can't stop.


JCC3 May 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Single engine failure on carrier approach a concern in the 2010 time frame?

I guess I am just lucky that my father survived flying all those traps in F4D, F3H and F8U aircraft, and when doing flight test in A-4 and A-7 aircraft.

Lucky for me and my family engine reliability was SO much better back in the 50′s and 60′s.


tiger May 8, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Exactly! The jet tech of today has come a long way. Nobody would build a B-52 with 8 jets today.


blight_ May 8, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Or the 6-turning and four-burnin'.


Big-Rick May 8, 2012 at 8:16 pm

taking the loss of the pilot out of the equation, the loss of a single F-35 due to engine failure (or other reasons) will be far far more damaging than the loss of a A-4 or A-7 or any other single engine plane.

Anything that is supposed to fly over water for long distances should have two engines-no matter how supposedly reliable they are, planes and pilots are much too valuable now days to lose to single engine failure. Single engine failure over land is another thing altogether, the pilot has a very good chance of survival, whereas over water the odds of survival are low, and you may not even get found even if you do punch out successfully and are able to get into your raft, etc etc


Pat May 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I do not ask this question intending to sound like a smartass, I am actually wondering. Why do they have a a carrier variant of the plane and a VTOL variant, when VTOL can land on carriers?


Sgt_Buffy May 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Carrier variant is cheaper and can carry more than the VTOL. (actually STOVL for Short Take Off Vertical Landing).STOVL systems are heavy, and require extra computing/space/weight management than traditional Carrier variants.
It's a good question though.
"It is also important to take note that the F-35B will not be a VTOL aircraft but an STOVL. " (F-16.net)


Josh May 8, 2012 at 8:07 pm

Does anyone know if the B will require ski ramps to be installed on LHA's like the Wasp and America class ships?


tiger May 8, 2012 at 8:51 pm

I don't think so. Now that you bring it up, it is odd they did not add a feature used by other navies. Hmmmm….


cr9527 May 8, 2012 at 11:13 pm

This is because the LHAs were never designed to fully utilize Fixed Wing assets. All carriers with ski-ramps are designed to mainly use Fixed Wing aircraft.

tiger May 8, 2012 at 2:44 pm

The B model was for the USMC & Fleet Air Arm to replace the Harrier. The C model is a F/A-18 replacement for the USN. The C version has longer legs And other advantages.


Riles May 8, 2012 at 2:46 pm

VTOL replaces the old Harriers that the Marines and Royal Navy have. It allows them to fly off smaller carriers that a normal carrier variant wouldn't be able to. But having that VTOL capability limits the amount of weight (fuel and weapons) it can carry and limits its combat radius.

Also, after quick research, the F35B is STOVL (Short take off vertical landing), not VTOL (Vertical take off/landing).


Riles May 8, 2012 at 2:47 pm

What Sgt Buffy said


Sgt_Buffy May 8, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Gotta love the Interweb


Adm Ackbar May 8, 2012 at 4:21 pm

It actually is capable of VTO, but probably without much of a useful payload.


Guest May 8, 2012 at 4:40 pm

Also there are other aging fleets of Harriers out there for potential replacement… Once the new platform is proven.


Josh May 8, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Spain too, or are they already in the program? I can't remember who's in and who's out these days!


matheusdiasuk May 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Now, what's the logic in have a 65,600 tonnes carrier and still uses the F35B instead of the more capable C version?

Cameron's logic, following new rumors from London


Josh May 10, 2012 at 3:26 am

Come on mate, who doesn't need two 65,000 helicopter carriers? ; )


Pat May 8, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Thanks to all!!! :)


Chuck May 9, 2012 at 5:18 pm

F-35B V/STOL (actually) is designed for LHA, LHDs, and the new America class ships. Not to mention other ships like the San Antonio's if really needed. Would be useless to put a F-35B on a carrier when a F-35C is available. Only need would be if the F-35B is being ferried to some other place where the F-35B would disembark and land vertically somewhere else.


Kole May 8, 2012 at 2:53 pm

At least we are making some progress here.


Lance May 8, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Want weapons firing pics lets see how many QF-4 and QF-16As it can shoot down!


McPosterdoor May 8, 2012 at 4:44 pm

If S.H.E.I.L.D.'s hover aircraft carrier was single engine that defense contracting bonerama would have dropped faster than N. Korea's missiles. I'm just saying, jet engine tech has improved but you have to account for future threats. Explosive arrow tech has gone through the roof.


Black Owl May 8, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Still no arrested landings, no live weapons releases, and no departure from controlled flight spins testing. Aside from in-flight refueling at night, the only thing they have done is put a bunch of hours on the jets. Not impressive at all.

I wonder how much a crash of one of these test jets would affect the program… How much would be lost? Hopefully the ejection seat works perfectly. Wouldn't want any pilots harmed from the terrible design of this jet.


STemplar May 9, 2012 at 2:27 am

Well, if the C model hook changes don't work, and as long as a pilot isn't hurt, you could fly the existing ones into a wall and lose nothing.


Rapier975 May 9, 2012 at 9:58 am

Black Owl, what are you going to do IF you get accepted for flight training, pass, become an aviator, and then eventually have to transition to the F35C? Will you refuse? I am not all that comfortable with having a pilot up there providing CAS for me that so obviously loathed the plane he is flying. Just doesn't fill me with confidence…


Black Owl May 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Let me make it clear that I love to fly and I will pilot any plane I am given to the best of my ability. I will always put the mission first. Your safety is much more important to me than what aircraft I am flying. However, I am pretty certain that I will be able to keep flying Super Hornets by choice since they will be around till 2030 at least. It looks like they'll be around longer since the Navy keeps buying more of them to offset the F-35C delays. If I wind up conducting CAS for you, then I'm sure you would want me to have an aircraft up to task right? If I need to support you would you like me to have a cannon, two engines for robustness to damage, and lots of ordinance? I wouldn't have those things to help you with if I'm flying an F-35C. Also would you like me to have friends with lots of aircraft able to remain on station for long periods of time and remain combat ready with few maintenance hours required to keep the jets flying? I wouldn't have those if I had an F-35C either. I have all of these things with the Super Hornet though. (Before anyone says anything, yes, I know the externally mounted gunpod for the F-35B model is supposedly able to be fitted to the F-35C, but that comes at the cost of stealth and performance too).


Rapier975 May 9, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Black Owl, your point is well made. My honest answer? As long as bombs land where I need them, I'm happy, regardless of the truck that brought them.


Black Owl May 9, 2012 at 2:12 pm

If that's the case then I can assure I'll get the bombs there just fine with the Super Hornet. ;)

Big-Rick May 9, 2012 at 12:37 am

Let's take a vote,

which program is a bigger waste of time and resources, and will do major harm to our defense over the long term



tiger May 9, 2012 at 11:07 am

There are a few more You could add to that list…..


blight_ May 9, 2012 at 11:17 am

F-35 will cost more money, but LCS might be responsible for more long term problems. Those things are our future minesweepers…



TMB May 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm

It could be a couple decades before the F-35 is critical to a war effort. The LCS is needed in the water now, and is going to replace existing ships doing actual missions.


Chuck May 9, 2012 at 5:31 pm

LCS will be much less useful in the long run. They better start thinking how to maximize the use of the modular aspect of the ships more. Very little firepower on those LCS ships. Russian and Chinese corvettes and frigates are almost as capable as our DDG-51 ships.
Would love to see a multi-role CG(X) battle cruiser around 20,000 tons. Lots of missiles, AMDR radar, couple 155mm AGS, dock well for an LCAC, couple Mk Vs, UUVs, and either SH-60s or F-35Bs. Room for about 100 troops. This would be a very useful ship I would say.


d. kellogg May 9, 2012 at 9:48 am

Try this perspective,…

F-35 Reality Check Ten Years On — Part 1: ‘Fifth-Generation’ and Other Myths

Considerable technical explanation does seem to dispel a lot of PR marketing hype and LM's (and their supporters') damage control spiels.


SMSgt Mac May 9, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Aaack! Oh no, you did NOT just link to a Francophile puff piece and refer to it as “technical information” other than as sarcasm? Briganti embarrasses himself on the IR topic alone. Thanks for the heads up though. Maybe I’ll ‘correct’ him tonight when I get off work.


Sgt_Buffy May 10, 2012 at 8:40 am

interesting way to put it: Unsinkable F-35 program.


passingby May 10, 2012 at 8:46 am

it's a typo. writer meant to say "the Unthinkable F-35 program"


flight case london flight case london flight case london flight case london December 12, 2013 at 9:22 pm
passingnowhere May 8, 2012 at 3:05 pm

50 years from now we're gonna prolly be worryig about the 6th gen fighter, or 7th gen fighter.


A. Nonymous May 8, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Hulk HATE puny single-engine airplane! Hulk SMASH!


A. Nonymous May 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm

To be fair, the Highly-accelerated, Ultimate Life (Kinetic) test method is by far the most difficult MIL-STD-810G test to pass. Many other military vehicles have failed the same test.


Riceball May 9, 2012 at 11:11 am

On the bright side, we now know that the F-35B is certified to operate off of SHIELD's helicarrier. I wonder what the development cycle for the helicarrier was like and who was the primary contractor for it?


GulfWarVet May 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm

Now that is funny Blazer… Excellent whit! BTW, I witnessed it too. LOL!


blight_ May 8, 2012 at 7:59 pm

The Hulk has tested many military vehicles. And in the Ang Lee version, this includes the Comanche. Lucky for us we never really bought 'em.


Dan May 9, 2012 at 11:14 am

I want to know why the helicarrier was filled with what looked like T-38s.


blight_ May 9, 2012 at 11:16 am

Even shield agents need to train.


TrustButVerify June 6, 2012 at 3:51 am

Sure they were T-38s? They looked likeDassault/Dornier Alpha Jets to me. Not the oddest choice- apparently a carrier-capable trainer variant was proposed- but I'd have gone with something a little more butch.


mike May 9, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Just as long as you're wings don't break off from the stress of canted hard points. They yeah, you'll do fine.


Black Owl May 10, 2012 at 1:09 pm

lol, where have you been? That was only a problem in 2004. They found some cracks in the underwing hard points only then. The problem was fixed by 2005 and the underwing hardpoints have not cause any problems since.


mike May 10, 2012 at 9:13 pm

Under a rock. Let's hope that the Rhino gets an internal IRST, and cft's sooner rather than later.


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