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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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



    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.