August 8, 2008 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Test flight delays due to engine problems could further inflate the cost of the F-35 Lightning II, already the most expensive military program ever at $299 billion.
F-35B - STOVL
Lockheed plans a first flight to test the short takeoff, vertical landing (STOVL
) capability of the Marine Corps version of the F-35 around the end of the first quarter of 2009 or early in the second quarter, at least three months later than planned.
The F-35B, also to be used by Britain's Royal Navy, had its first conventional flight in June. But tests of the STOVL mode require different lift technology and have been delayed until engine maker Pratt & Whitney finishes four ground tests which will likely not be completed during the first quarter.
Bill Gostic, manager of F135 engine programs for Pratt, they spent tens of millions of dollars to avert air flow issues that caused two blades in the F135 engine to break during ground tests in August and February.
As the engine is built under a cost-plus contract with the Pentagon, the extra costs must be covered by the government. this could lead to a cut in the number of STOVL jet orders, which in turn would raise the per-unit cost.
The cost of each F-35 has already nearly doubled to about $70 million from early projections of $35 million, he said.
Gostic said Pratt & Whitney would deliver a modified F135 engine to Lockheed on Jan. 9 after final quality assurance tests in November to ensure it would hold up in STOVL mode.