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F-35 flight tests continue to push the envelope

August 30, 2010 (by Diane Betzler) - Maj. Matt Hayden and Mr. Alan Dykhoff are part of the team at Edwards who test and verify the Lockheed Martin-built F-35 aircraft performs as advertised.

Mr. Dykhoff is the project engineer in charge of landing gear and brake systems and Major Hayden sits in the cockpit of the single-seat, single-engine stealth fighter and takes it high into the skies, often pushing it to the envelope limits, to test its flight characteristics, handling qualities and how the equipment operates.

Both men are part of the 461st Flight Test Squadron, the F-35 Integrated Test Force. An integrated team of military, government, civilian, contractor and international partners, working together to test the newest 5th generation platform, the Joint Strike Fighter.

The JSF is a first of its kind, a multinational acquisition program for the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and eight international partners. It is among the newest airplanes to stop at Edwards for testing.

Major Hayden says the F-35 is not intended to replace its older sibling, the F-22, which was also built by Lockheed Martin.

"The F-22 and the F-35 together will be accounting for the F-16, some F-15 roles and some A-10 roles. Between both airplanes we're basically replacing the current fighter inventory in the Air Force," Major Hayden said.

Major Hayden prefers not to compare the two top fighters, instead, he points out that every airplane has certain design features that are characterized for specific missions.

"The F-22 and the F-35 are going to be flying different missions and because of that there are certain regimes that each was designed to and each aircraft does its job really well," he said. "The two fighter aircraft work in concert with each other and are not intended to replace one another."

Many pilots have a favorite aircraft they like to fly, but F-35 pilots have a favorite variant of the same aircraft that they get to boast about and trade notes on.

"Each variant is made for a specific role and each of the services has a vested interest in its own variant, no variant is necessarily better, it all boils down to the mission and if that platform meets the requirements of the mission," Major Hayden said.

The Air Force version is the conventional takeoff and landing variant, which they call the CTOL. The Marine Corps is procuring an F-35B, the short takeoff and vertical landing, also known as the STOVL; while the Navy has in the F-35C, the carrier variant, more commonly referred to as CV.

"Each has its own specialty," the major said. "The Navy isn't going to buy an airplane that can't take off from an aircraft carrier, the Marine Corps is not going to buy an airplane that can't do their unique roles that support Marine Corps activity from both austere fields as well as from boats."

Currently at Edwards, Mr. Dykhoff and his team are testing the landing gear and brakes on the CTOL variant.

"We're mainly responsible for testing the Air Force variant and we're actually the first ones testing most of the aspects of the landing gear and brakes," Mr. Dykhoff said.

He said the STOVL and CV variants are being tested at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland and said they are all working together.

"The idea is that the tests all complement each other and we can build off one another since some of the data is common," Mr. Dykhoff said.

He said the preproduction F-35s began arriving at Edwards in May 2010 and scheduling for the developmental flight test program goes through 2014.

Mr. Dykhoff said to date the aircraft is performing as designed, and said he and the Edwards flight test team also support F-35 flight testing being conducted at Lockheed Martin in Forth Worth, Texas.

While testing the mechanical systems of the aircraft, they continue to build out the flight envelope. The flight test team also works together to monitor the data, check the response of the airplane, ensure the design is solid, check the handling qualities and check the structural integrity of the airplane as well as aircraft loading conditions.

Mr. Dykhoff credits the entire team for the success of all that they do.

"We have engineers in the control room continuously monitoring everything we test," Mr. Dykhoff said.

"We have a virtual cast of thousands including designers, analysts, manufacturers and management standing behind us," he said.

Mr. Dykhoff has been at Edwards 21 years and says what keeps him here is that he gets to deal with the Air Force's latest and greatest airplanes.

"We get to work with the final product and cutting edge technology," he said.

To date there are two F-35 aircraft at Edwards, four at Pax River and four more at Ft. Worth that are preparing to ferry to the main test sites in the next few months. It is expected that over 3,100 additional aircraft will be built, which also includes the ones being built for the international partners.

"We're focused on expanding the envelope with our testing of this aircraft," said Major Hayden.

Courtesy of Edwards Air Force Base

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