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

  • 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.

  • 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.


    One out of four missiles shot. Sigh.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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?

    • 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.

  • don

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

  • gator

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

  • 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.