The Ups and Downs of F-35 Testing

The F-35 strike fighter program is conducting more flight tests per month than scheduled under the program’s most recent restructure. But it’s still “lagging somewhat” in its mission systems test points, said Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of operational test and evaluation. “Although good progress is being made in the program, there are many challenges that remain,” Gilmore told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. For example, there’ve been problems “flight testing at high angle of attack and high speed between Mach 1.2 and Mach 1.6 and at low altitude in transonic speeds,” he noted. More “discoveries” also could arise as tests progress with weapons integration, particularly “multiple releases from both the aircraft’s bays.” Gilmore said he is concerned that test flights with heavy external stores might undercover additional structural issues. “Continued durability testing of the aircraft’s structure must be done,” he said. “It was stopped at 2,000 hours of an 8,000-hour life because problems were discovered in some of the structures.” But that structural testing will resume shortly, he said. (Gilmore prepared testimony)