The Seven Percent Solution

The F-35 program flew more test flights and achieved more test points in 2011 than what was called for in the strike fighter’s master schedule, said Alan Norman, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 chief test pilot. “We exceeded the 2011 flight test plan by seven percent,” he told reporters on Thursday at AFA’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Fla. This amounted to racking up 7,283 test points on 972 system development and demonstration flights and included 268 vertical landings with the F-35B model, he said. The delivery of more test aircraft in all three variants enabled the surge in test activity, said Norman. He noted that the F-35 has now flown to “max Mach”—Mach 1.6, has begun flying at night, and is doing external pylon and weapon carriage tests. Separation tests from the internal weapons bays with either the AIM-120 air-to-air missile or 2000-pound joint direct attack munition will begin later this year, following “pit tests,” he said. In response to questions about the helmet-mounted display, which has had problems knitting together imagery from cameras around the jet, Norman said the test pilots “like it.” The system could use “some improvements” and “we’ll keep working on it,” he said.