F-35A Fires First Missile in Test Flight

AF-1, Flt 314, LtCol George "Boxer" Schwartz, AIM-120 AAVI Launc

The U.S. Air Force’s F-35 fighter jet launched its first in-flight missile in a key software test, the service announced.

The Lockheed Martin Corp.-made F-35A on June 5 fired a Raytheon Co.-made AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile above Naval Air Station Point Mugu, a test range in the Pacific Ocean, according to a release from the service.

The exercise was the first to perform a launch-to-eject communications sequence and will lead to targeted launches later this year as part of the software release known as Block 2B, the service said.

The event “marks a turning point” in the aircraft’s development, Charlie Wagner, the service’s F-35 weapons director, said in the June 7 release. “The AIM-120 launch is one small but critical increment toward proving” the single-engine jet’s ability to fly combat operations, he said.

The Joint Strike Fighter is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, with an estimated cost of $391 billion to develop and build 2,457 Lightning II aircraft.

The Defense Department next year plans to spend $8.4 billion to buy 29 F-35 Lightning II aircraft, including 19 for the Air Force, six for the Marine Corps and four for the Navy. The funding includes $6.4 billion in procurement, $1.9 billion in research and development and $187 million in spare parts.

Pentagon officials and lawmakers remain concerned about the aircraft’s slow pace of software development.

The Marine Corps version of the jet, called the F-35B, which can take off like a helicopter and fly like a plane, is set to begin operational flights by December 2015; the Air Force’s by December 2016 and the Navy’s by February 2019, according to information released last week by the Defense Department.

The schedule has been delayed by about three years due in part to problems developing the fifth-generation fighter’s software.

The Marine Corps initially expected its version of the F-35 to be ready for operations in December 2012, according to program documents. The Navy and Air Force originally put the start date at April 2016.

The Air Force plans to start flying its version of the aircraft in 2016 rather than the following year as previously planned by using software similar to the Marine Corps’ jump-jet variant. That installment, known as Block 2B, isn’t as lethal as the full software package.

By that time, the Air Force will have a squadron with at least a dozen aircraft and airmen trained and equipped to conduct basic close-air support, interdiction and limited suppression, and destruction of enemy air defenses in a contested environment, according to the release.

The full software package, known as Block 3F, is designed to support a suite of internal and external weapons, including the GPS-guided joint direct attack munition, laser-guided Paveway II bomb, advanced medium-range air-to-air missile and infrared Sidewinder missile.

The F-35A is designed to carry a payload of as much as 18,000 pounds in 10 weapon stations, including four internal stations in two weapons bays and three external weapons stations per wing.

“We’re rolling into a lot of additional weapons work in the coming months to put that expanded capability on the aircraft,” Lt. Col. George Schwartz, director of the F-35 integrated test force who piloted the flight, said in the release.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • hibeam

    A large expensive slow MAV. What a waste of resources. Why not a compartment for the pilots horse? For when a UAV shoots him down.

    • Kole

      UAVs work off of wavelengths, and DRFM confuses that. The F-35 may be bad, but I’d rather have it against the drone. :)

    • Ken

      can anyone tell me what’s the long metal pin in front of the jet for?

      • Nenad

        I assume you are asking about radar antenna.

      • wpnexp

        The pitot tube is used to collect air data flowing around the aircraft.

      • Thomas L. Nielsen

        It looks like an air data probe. These are often fitted to aircraft during tests to provide additional data on airspeed, angle of attack etc. as a supplement to the aircraft’s standard sensors.

        Regards & all,

        Thomas L. Nielsen
        Luxembourg

  • Big-Dean

    The F-35 mafia is out in force again

  • ziv

    The F-35 seems to be starting to turn the corner from the over-priced, under-performing weapons program of the future. Now it looks like it is going to be the over-priced, only moderately better second tier fighter/attack aircraft of the next several decades. The F-16 may have been a marginally better second tier fighter, but it was never all that great compared to the F-15 and the SU-35.
    Given the fact that competing air superiority fighters from Russia, China and the Euro-region are going to be visible via radar and infrared long before the F-35 will be, maybe the F-35 deserves a bit more respect than it gets here from the Super Bug/F15SE fanboys here.
    I don’t think anyone is happy with the changes in the F-35 specs lately, but it will be an impressive aircraft if it gets deployed.

    • yashpahade

      Super Bug?

      • iamalurker

        super hornets

      • ziv

        Improved F18E Hornet > Super Hornet > Super Bug.
        The unofficial nicknames are often better than the official names.

    • Restore Palestine

      Turn what corner? The F-35 is still the same old expensive and useless POS as before. Don’t you think it’s outrageous that it’s only now testing firing missiles after tens of billions have gone down the toilet developing and producing the junk?

      • wpnexp

        Best piece of junk flying both air to air and air to ground. Flight testing is a process not something that happens automatically. We sent F-15Es to the Desert Strom that were not cleared for many weapons that are currently used today. We are expecting the F-35 to be fully operational in every way, when no other fighter has ever had to meet those standards. Do you think we would buy a Block 10 F-16A today. Of course not. We bought those aircraft despite the fact we knew they were not capable of doing little more than moving mud on the ground and defending themselves in an air-to-air fight. They had not radar guided AAMs (and no radar to support radar guided misisles) and no guided bombs. Think a little before you post.

      • ChuckL

        And to think. The F-22 was taken out of production to build F-35s’

        WE get 90% of the Cost and 35% of the peformance.

        • tiger

          Different plane for a different role………

    • XYZ

      I up-voted you before I read your comment about the F-16. Sorry, but the F-16 is anything but second-tier. Maybe if you consider ONLY air-to-air, then yes, the F-15 and Su-35 can be better than the F-16.

  • hibeam

    Nice picture. Hard to imagine how a cheap fast tiny UAV could sneak up on this huge slow expensive iron lung with wings.

    • tmb2

      “cheap fast tiny UAV”

      There’s no such thing, nor will those three adjectives together describe a UAV any time soon.

      • Ikonovich

        It’s called a missile.

        • Benjamin

          Missiles are not that cheap

          • Sanem

            compared to an F-35, they might as well be free :)

        • wpnexp

          What is firing the missile? Does the missile not need a sophisticated sensor system to guide it. Able to detect and track a stealthy target. Does the missile have the same range as the JSF? Can the missile attack other ground targets and defeat enemy aircraft and missiles? Does the missile collect intelligence and pass it on to other aircraft in the area? Can the missile defeat an electronic attack from the JSF (ie. when the JSF frys the eletronics of said missile? Your picture is fading fast.

  • Ricky

    Beautiful Picture. Time will tell on how it will preform and I have high hopes. :)

  • oblatt1

    The few F-35 that are built will spend their days doing what disasters have always done flying BDA missions. No wonder that are comparing it to drones now.

  • USS ENTERPRISE

    One out of four missiles shot. Sigh.

    • Ben

      They’ll be upgraded to carry 6 internally.

  • jack

    Since when does a home made chart from clown club apa count for anything?
    Is the G sustained, instantaneous, what fuel load, what weapon load etc…are all planes in a comparable configuration doing the same G maneuver ?
    where are the source docs linked to the chart?

    • Gaylord_Gaylordson

      Amen. It’s laughable how widespread this disinfo is.

  • Netta

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWji8AcOYGA

    How does this in anyway show this plane is a flying iron lung?
    Look at the series of tail slides from 27 of the video on. Hows does a F-16 perform at 50 degrees AOA and altitude? I’m sure it can point its nose like this right?

  • Ben

    I always found it interesting how the far more sophisticated B variant is the first cleared for operational deployment. Seems to me that the A would lead the pack, as it’s the simplest. Go figure.

    • citanon

      It’s first for deployment because the Marines don’t want their variant cancelled. Simple as that.

      • citanon

        And by corollary, when the Marines put their collective minds to something, it gets done!

    • blight_

      The Marines don’t have another aircraft to fall back onto. Harrier is out of production, with no Middle Eastern sugar daddy to hold the line open (Gulf states for F-16; Israel/Saudis for F-15); plus Singapore for the F-15; and the USN has the Super Hornet to fall back on.

  • Jason

    The software is delayed because they had to rewrite after the Chinese got it.

    • WCL

      Oh great, another 10-15 years of waiting then.

    • blight_

      Unless there’s a major security hole to patch, you don’t “rewrite” software just because someone else has had a peek at your source.

      Hooray, we have to rewrite the equations that determine how the F-35 determines G-forces because the Chinese have looked at your commented-out lines and had a laugh at your expense.

    • wpnexp

      There is no indication that the Chinese got the software for this plane. We aren’t even giving it to our allies. They may have gotten their hands on some design info, but never heard they got the plan software. Anyways, the software will be changing every year or two, anyways. They can never be completely sure what they have compared to what is actually in the aircraft.

    • ChuckL

      I seem to remember tha he militay had a privte programing language cald ADA about 25 yers ago because they did not want anyone to be able to use commercial softwre to assemble or disassemble their pograms. It appears that they should have kept it. and kept it up to date in functionality.

      • blight_

        Ada dates from the ’80s, and it remains in use in certain applications. However, mainstream programming did not embrace Ada (for whatever reason), and most programmers are trained on C-like languages, or have at least encountered C and C-like languages before.

  • WRG001

    The F35 will have to prove its worth and may very well never have been worth it’s overall “cost” (to include opportunity cost), but it will be the best platform in the skies. I get a lot of the comments here…valid, at least in part, for all that have been made…but as vets and tech-related people, we also understand that US air power is multi-use…that is the best bang for your buck. That an F35 can go from shooting down MiGs to delivering precision ordnance on deep buried bunkers to directing UAVs in to their respective targets is phenomenal…No Chinese or Russian aircraft can do all of these tasks and no European aircraft can either (at least not at the same level). The Gripen is great, FOR THE $$$, but so too is the F16 and we’re moving beyond that platform now. The F15 is an amazing air superiority fighter, but better than it’s MiG and SU counterparts because it will also turn around and drop precision ordnance…hence our multi-purpose platform concepts that overall outperform any adversary (present or near future). Could an Su-27 (or variant) shoot down an F35…sure….the defense world I’m in deals with risk mitigation, because risk elimination is a pipe dream. We’ll always risk losing aircraft and ships and tanks….but, overall our interconnected battle-space and multi-capable platforms will womp anyone, anytime…anywhere.

    • AAA

      well said

      • WRG001

        Thanks, bro…although not quite eloquent in prose, I’m glad that my point appears to have gotten across.

    • WCL

      WRG001, you sound like you are getting paid by LM to post this. Come on, the F-15 and the F-16 are legacy fighters. The Pentagon has been aware of their clear disadvantage in match up against the Sukhois, their derivatives, and China’s J-10 A/B. Recently the F-22 got floored by the Eurofighter in dog fight exercise, and it’s not the first time the F-22 has been outmaneuvered either. If the F-22 can’t make the cut, how can the F-35, a cheap, light, and crappier version, make the cut?

      • Gaylord_Gaylordson

        That’s news to me. The Pentagon is aware, instead, of a 6:1 positive exchange ratio for the F35 over planes like Su35. Your information is a joke and the F22 was never honestly defeated. Those were canned exercises with the EF2000 “slicked down to near empty weight” and the F22 was not allowed to fire from BVR, but required to close to gun range. Thats hardly representative of reality. The 22 and 35 have no peers in the World. That’s why all the pros want the VLO F35 and all the FANBOYS want their own personal faves. Your opinion is not that of the Pentagon, the USAF, USMC, USN, RAF, RAAF, JASDF, IAF, RoK AF, etc etc. Sukhois are a myth.

        • Godzilla

          I think it is quite likely the F-22 has worse performance in close range dogfighting at longer than cannon ranges. For one it has no helmet mounted sights. For another it supposedly cannot fire missiles off boresight at extreme angles as well as an Eurofighter, Sukhoi, or a Super Hornet.

          The long range combat performance of the F-22 is probably better than any of those. But future will depend on a lot on upgrades. e.g. Meteor missile, sensor upgrades, some sort of helmet mounted sight for the F-22, etc.

      • Free America

        You dont know what you are talking about.

    • ChuckL

      Sorry WRG, but when the aricraft can not survive in the battle field it is a loser. The F-35 can not outrun, out turn, dodge missilies and is much slowe than a 1959 F-106 it is a loser.

      At least the F111 or FB111 was faster and more maneuverable that almost everything that it had to comete with.

      The f-35 is a slow ground attack fighter that will be totally outclassed as an air supeiority fighter. It can be attacked from altitudes that it can not each.

  • Restore Palestine

    This is funny. You would have thought that they would have tested this crucial aspect of the F-35 BEFORE they commit the aircraft to serial production.

    Am I the only one who has smelled a rat here?

    • blight_

      Sadly, the demonstrator rarely has any relationship to the final product. How weird is that?

      The F-35 demonstrators ran OTS electronics and had none of the doodads the F-35 will deploy with. So what is being demonstrated?

    • ChuckL

      NO !

  • John Moore

    So is Canada still getting 67 ff-35 for 6.9 billion?

  • Tony C.

    Actually saw two of the F-35A’s in flight over Panama City Beach and at first ddin’t know what they were, but the sound was unique. I worked on F-14A’s and have been around F-18C’s at Patuxent River, these jets have tremendous power. It’s obvious the publicly released specifications for this jet is misinformation. These jets have more power to weight than they would like the enemy to believe. They are not advertised for supercruise, but it is a possibility. They have to keep up with F-22A’s.

    • WCL

      How many bottles of Johnny Walker / Bourbon had you downed before you saw those F-35A’s with extraordinarily powerful engine?

      How many more bottles had you downed before you wrote this post?

      • Steve B.

        Agree

        It’s a single engined, 30,000 lbs pig. Possibly the software will mature to a point that makes the aircraft somewhat usable for limited missions. Air to Air is not going to be one of them.

        • jack

          that 30,00lb pig has a 40,000lb engine and with a 50% fuel fraction like the f-15 plane, about 5,000lb fuel and x missiles, it is still a greater t/w than 1:1

          • d. kellogg

            But is it greater than 1:1 WITHOUT using A/B?
            When that burner kicks on, that heat signature becomes extraordinarily larger as well, for an engine that size.

            It is NOT a commercial reduced noise, lower heat signature, high bypass turbofan.

            There is far too insufficient a channeling cooling effect off the aircraft’s aft area to hide a heat plume of that magnitude from today’s even-commercially-available IR systems.

            No F-35 is going to remain low-observable for long when it kicks in the high throttle,
            let alone the decibel level of that thing even when only flying under “civilian power” restricted by operations over CONUS urban/suburban areas.

            The jet (engine) is NOT quiet, and it’s plume is NOT thermally cooled sufficiently at combat power levels.
            That heat will be its Achilles heel.

          • Thomas L. Nielsen

            “The jet (engine) is NOT quiet, and it’s plume is NOT thermally cooled sufficiently at combat power levels.
            That heat will be its Achilles heel”

            And this is different from every other military jet aircraft since the Me 262 in what way exactly?

            Regards & all,

            Thomas L. Nielsen
            Luxembourg

          • blight_

            Public numbers suggest ~28 kilopounds dry, 40+ kilopounds wet.

            That said, IRST depends on low humidity and excellent contrast, partially mitigated as the technology improves. IRST might provide some advantage in the space between BVR and WVR, but not sure how much.

          • d. kellogg

            Generalizing.
            IRST acronym is as generic as LASER.
            Are we talking narrow band, wideband, broad spectrum combined seeker?

            Case in point: AIM-9X uses a technology called focal planar array, think of it as generational evolution of imaging infrared seekers, but its capability is far ahead of the early Sidewinders.

            And just as any missile’s passive seeker technology improves, so too does the same tech port over into infrared scanning systems.
            Query http://www.flir.com
            these people are key in setting the standard what IR systems can detect.
            Don’t be surprised how easily this beloved F-35 shows up dawn, dusk, midday, even nighttime with even just a handhgeld IR device.

            Or, like submarines operating among the thermoclines, does the F-35 now have some supersecret onboard NOAA weather alert system that allows it to hide among various atmospheric temperature currents to mask its presence?

            That BIG 40,000+ pounds thrust in afterburner generates a very large plume. I can easily pick up commercial hi-bypass turbofan aircraft at over 30K feet with just a handheld detector.
            Some of you fanboys REALLY think the F-35 will somehow be LESS observable with such a large exhaust plume?

          • citanon

            30000 feet = 5 nautical miles. At that range even a B2 will eat a missile.

            Stealth gives you significantly lower observability in BVR regime, eg, 30 nautical miles. It is not, nor does it need to be, Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak.

      • Gaylord_Gaylordson

        What are your aerospace engineering credentials?

    • Tony C.

      The F-35A’s were being shadowed by an F-16C and the difference in the noise signature between the PW engine and the GE engine were the give away. I’ve worked around fighters for years and the F-15C has the GE engines. The GE engines are in the 20,000 pound thrust class, while the PW engine is at least 40,000 in an airframe of similar size to the F-16C. The F-35A appears to be at least as manuverable as the F-16C, so it’s not air superiority. It may be able to hold it’s own until help arrives. Everybody hates it on this blog, that’s OK. I have more respect for it now that I’ve witnessed it.

      • d. kellogg

        “Everybody hates it on this blog, that’s OK. I have more respect for it now that I’ve witnessed it. ”

        Hollywood drama aside (all these movies that trump it up),
        I will have more respect for it as well once it’s proven it CAN hold its own against something more credible than Taliban and Somi pirates.
        Tomcats twice trounced the best the Libyans could muster, cementing USN superiority versus certain Russian types in foreign hands. Upmteen times the teen series have held their own versus Iraqi pilots and anything any of Israel’s adversaries could throw at them.

        Show me the good news when the F-35 stands on its own (and the USAF/USN/USMC) merit moreso than LM’s PR.
        Oh wait: still no answer to those Sukhoi pilots who challenged the US to fly off against them in an F-22, either. I suppose it’ll also be forever and a day before we see a true F-35 detachment called to duty versus a near-peer adversary.
        Oh wait, it appears the F-35 can already beat them up even without taking off at all.

        Enough of the hype, show us the substance.

        • Gaylord_Gaylordson

          Show us the substance of a sukhoi instead. These are airshow queens with inferior avionics, engines and weapons.

          They are fast and can do a cobra though, so a bunch of know-nothings of course think they’re great.

          Why would the USAF concern itself with fighting 22s vs SU35s? To reassure a know-nothing named d. kellog on some phony comment thread? They already have SU27s on the Nellis test range and are fully aware of the capabilities of the updated versions of these fighters. The real world efficacy of these planes is not very high. Today, an F/A-18E/F can handle the SU35 without trouble. There is no substance to the SU myth.

          • WCL

            Where did you get the idea that an FA18E/F can handle the SU35 without trouble. Can you provide any factual basis for your claims? You brag a lot about the F35 and the F22 but none of your posts have any links, technical data, or professional analysis in support of your claims.

            Do you at least have a technical degree from a respected science / engineering school?

          • tiger

            It’s not the toy, it’s the pilot that counts. A Good pilot in a crap plane will defeat the newbie with the shiny toy every time.

  • don

    Where is the real fighter, F 86 Saber jet , eh haa???????

  • gator

    You idiots don’t know s*it from Shinola.

    • hibeam

      Sure we do. That’s not Shinola sloshing about inside your noggin.

  • hibeam

    Missile jettisons F-35 in test flight.

  • USAF77

    So many post negative about this system without even knowing what they are being negative about. One Liners dont cut it. Can anyone name one complex system ever developed without beginning hiccups? Let alone such a technically advanced one.

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