F-35 Moves into Full-Scale Testing in 2009

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program will wrap up all remaining system development and demonstration aircraft production this year, Lockheed Martin officials told reporters Thursday at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla., and will deliver the first of the production-model fighters to the Air Force for the training program at Eglin AFB, Fla. Full-scale flight test operations will also commence at both Edwards AFB, Calif., and NAS Patuxent River, Md., said Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 program manager. Scheduled events for 2009 include the first vertical landing of the F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing variant, the first flight of the F-35C carrier variant, as well as the stand-up of both Air Force and Navy initial training sites. Lockheed plans to take AA-1, the first F-35A conventional takeoff and landing prototype, down to Eglin this year to help with noise testing efforts under the guidance of Maj. Gen. Charles Davis, the newly selected commander of the Air Armament Center. (AA-1 has accumulated 70 flights so far, with 96.9 flight hours.) As of late February, eight of the 19 SDD F-35s have been delivered, he said, and Lockheed is moving about one aircraft a month off their Fort Worth, Tex. production line—a pace they hope to accelerate. The three variants are now benefitting from what Crowley called the “highest common denominator”—as the parts and avionics are improved from the SDD phase to production aircraft. The company is aiming to increase production by 20 times its current pace over the course of the next seven years, to match the delivery schedule for both the US and foreign program partners.