Preparing to Unleash the Beast

The first F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing test aircraft, BF-1, has completed hover pit tests, placing it within weeks or perhaps days of its first flight. Flight reported May 28 that a Lockheed Martin spokesman confirmed that engineers ran the aircraft’s propulsion through a series of conversions from conventional mode to vertical landing mode in the pit—where the aircraft is tethered to the ground—to measure the vertical thrust that the engine generates. These tests are the last major step before BF-1’s inaugural flight, which the magazine said is expected around early June. But don’t expect to see BF-1 hovering around right away. Initially it will only fly in conventional mode; not until early 2009 will the test pilot begin engaging the STOVL propulsion for short takeoffs, vertical landings, and hovers, Lockheed Martin has said. DOD has made the release of funding for first six F-35B production airframes contingent on a successful flight of BF-1.