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F-35 marks 200 flights as test program ramps up

May 12, 2010 (by Bjørnar Bolsøy) - After a surge of flight test activity the F-35 program completed its 200th test flight last week. On May 5, Graham Tomlison piloted BF-1 for 44 minutes evaluating the jet's flying qualities and airframe loads.

AF-1 on its 3rd flight on April 21st, 2010. Pilot was David 'Doc' Nelson. [Lockheed Martin photo]

The uptempo flying means the program has regained the flight schedule and is well on its way to fulfill the target of 394 flights this year.

If not slightly improving on it. At the turn of the month 60 flights had been recorded of 58 planned. In two weeks in April the test teams at Fort Worth and NAS Pax River chalked up no less than 27 flights between two aircraft. The second air force jet, AF-2, phased through its first 12 flights in just 10 days. It follows an impressive reliability trend displayed by the test aircrafts; about 70 percent of the flights have landed Code One with no maintenance issues. Both AF-1 and AF-2 will leave for Edwards AFB in California to continue flight testing, possibly next week.

It's a hint of things to come. Lockheed Martin is confident it will uphold the tempo and meet the year-end-goal of 394 flights. "Our current flight tempo will get us to that mark by the end of the calendar year, and we still have more aircraft poised to enter flight testing", says company spokesman John Kent by email. The first jets for the training wing at Eglin AFB in Florida are set to arrive in the 4th quarter of this year.

The next big milestone for the program will be the first flight of the F-35C carrier variant. "That should happen this quarter", says Kent. CF-1, as it's called, has already conducted full-power engine runs. Its sister ships CF-2 and CF-3 have already rolled out and the third air force jet, AF-3, is also nearing its first flight. AF-4 and BF-5 are in the last stages of final assembly and will be the last aircraft delivered from the batch of 19 System Development and Demonstration (SDD) jets.

With BF-1's return to flight - also its 43rd flight - there are now four jets flying. In addition the BF-3 and BF-4 jets are are performing engine run tests and are expected back in the air shortly. BF-4 is the first aircraft flying with mission systems and sensors. The STOVL jet will be joined later by AF-3 and work together with the CATbird flying testbed. This will primarily evaluate the advanced software, sensors and systems together, known as data or sensor fusion. Data from the sensors already ran through BF-4's fusion engine on its April 7 first flight and Lockheed will step up the amount of data fusion as sensors are added and moving to higher software block numbers.

Live firing tests are scheduled to start this summer at NAS China Lake. This will involve the first F-35 aircraft, called AA-1, and subject the jet to different caliber weapons to evaluate its toughness and survivability. The jet will not be flyworthy after this. BF-3 will begin weapons separations testing in 2011, starting with either an AMRAAM or a GBU-class weapon. This is part of the overall weapon integration tests which will also involve AF-1 and AF-3.

The 200th flight at NAS Pax River followed the program's third flight mid-week. Just a few hours earlier U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Kelly flew BF-2 on its 25th flight and on Tuesday RAF Squadron Leader Steve Long flew its 24th. The week concluded with three additional flights in BF-1 and BF-2 for a total of six flights. As of Monday May 10 the program had logged a total of 206 flights and 267.1 hours in the air.

Lt. Col. Kelly is one of three new additions to the F-35's pilot roster. The exclusive list now includes 11 pilots. Lt. Col. Hank "Hog" Griffiths, director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards AFB, logged his first flight in AF-2 on April 23. Lockheed Martin pilot Bill Gigliotti summs up the pilots who recently checked out on the F-35. Gigliotti also got his first flight on April 25 in AF-1.

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