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#2613 2008-06-12 GMT-5 hours    
F-35B Lightning II passes its test with flying colors
Star-Telegram staff writer

With the thundering roar of its powerful jet engine trailing in its wake, the second F-35 Lightning II test airplane flew for the first time Wednesday, marking a milestone in the development of the next-generation warplane.

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The trouble-free flight was step one in the efforts of the Defense Department and Lockheed Martin to show that they can overcome delays and technical problems, and begin to deliver on promises to provide U.S. and foreign armed forces with a series of more capable and reliable combat aircraft.

Wednesday's flight "fulfilled a commitment we made in 2006 to the Department of Defense and the commandant of the Marine Corps" to fly the first F-35B model before the end of June, said Marine Brig. Gen. David Heinz, the Pentagon's deputy program manager for the F-35.

"There were a lot of skeptics that didn't believe it was going to happen," Heinz said. "This team made it happen."

With a price tag approaching an expected $300 billion, the joint strike fighter program is the nation's largest, most costly weapons program. It's the subject of close scrutiny, with every step and misstep examined closely in Washington and overseas.

After about two hours of final preflight preparations, British test pilot Graham Tomlinson unleashed the power of the Pratt & Whitney engine at 10:17 a.m., and the test airplane designated BF-1 soared into the sky.

The flight had been expected to last about an hour, but Tomlinson accomplished all of the scheduled tests within 45 minutes. After landing at Naval Air Station Fort Worth and going through the usual postflight checks, he taxied the plane to the hangar area where Lockheed brass and senior Marine officers were gathered.

After climbing out of the cockpit, Tomlinson gave two thumbs up to indicate his grade for the airplane's performance. "We had no snags in flight," he said. "The plane is very easy to fly. It pretty nearly lands itself."

Dan Crowley, Lockheed executive vice president and F-35 program general manager, called the flight historic and said the F-35B aircraft was "a game changer" for the military in terms of its future combat capabilities.

The test flight marks the beginning of a crucial period in the development program in the next 18 to 24 months.

The F-35B flown Wednesday is the short-takeoff-vertical-landing (STOVL) version, designed for use by the Marines as well as the British and Italian navies. It is the most technically and aerodynamically complex of the three models.

The aircraft is the first to incorporate major design changes launched midway through the program in 2004 to reduce weight and enable the plane to meet requirements for range and weapons payload.

Lockheed and the other contractors face a challenging schedule. By the end of 2009, they are to have delivered all 18 test aircraft, 12 for flight and six for ground testing. Several planes will need to be in flight testing, proving the plane's airworthiness and capabilities.

Any further delays or technical problems could leave the program subject to budget cuts by the U.S. government, and delayed or even canceled purchase plans by foreign governments.

Lockheed is building the F-35 in Fort Worth, where about 4,000 employees work on the program. Its major partners include Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems, both of which have sizable work forces in Fort Worth on the program, including Tomlinson, a BAE test pilot.

Marine Brig. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation, said he and other Marine generals are counting on Lockheed and its partners to deliver on the promised F-35B and its combat capabilities.

"Wherever Marines are sent, with this aircraft we can go support our Marines on the ground," Davis said.

"I've got a son in [Marine] flight school now. I'd be ecstatic if he got a chance to support ground troops in this airplane."

Tomlinson predicted that pilots will find a night-and-day difference between flying the F-35 and the world's only other STOVL combat jet, the Harrier, which is used by British forces and the Marines and which he has flown for thousands of hours.

The Harrier, a 1960s design that has had a poor safety record, is "an amazing airplane, but the pilot had to look after it all the time," Tomlinson said. "This airplane looks after itself. The pilot is free to concentrate on the mission."

F-35 Lightning II

Three versions, all supersonic, with stealth (low visibility to radar) characteristics and 75 percent common components, including engines and weapons systems.

F-35A - Conventional takeoff and landing

Users: U.S. and foreign air forces

Specifications: Top speed, Mach 1.6 (1,200+ mph); empty weight, 29,300 pounds; maximum weight, 68,000 pounds; fuel, 18,000 pounds; range, about 1,200 nautical miles; payload, 2 air-to-air missiles, 2 precision guided air-to-ground weapons, total 5,000 pounds; internal 25 mm cannon

F-35B - Short takeoff-vertical landing

Users: U.S. Marines, British and Italian navies

Specifications: Top speed, Mach 1.6; empty weight, 32,300 pounds; maximum weight, 60,000 pounds; fuel, 14,000 pounds; range, about 900 nautical miles; payload, 2 air-to-air missiles, 2 precision guided air-to-ground weapons, total 3,500 pounds; external cannon-capable

F-35C - Carrier-based

User: U.S. Navy

Specifications: Top speed, Mach 1.6; empty weight, 34,800 pounds; maximum weight, 70,000 pounds; fuel, 19,000 pounds; range, about 1,400 nautical miles; payload, 2 air-to-air missiles, 2 precision guided air-to-ground weapons, total 5,000 pounds; external cannon-capable

Sources: Lockheed Martin, Star-Telegram research


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#2615 2008-06-13 GMT-5 hours    
Nice photos Tristan!

Good to see that this thing got off the ground....that tail ain't lookin too bad either!

My soul is in the sky.

- Shakespeare

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#2619 2008-06-14 GMT-5 hours    
Great photos, wanted to get out and see it but was unable to get off from work...

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#2657 2008-06-25 GMT-5 hours    
Does it have the same stealth properties as the f22? it looks like that engine would leave quite a heat signature..

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#2713 2008-07-11 GMT-5 hours    
very very nice....

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