F-35A Lightning II fires guns in flight for the first time

The F-35A Lightning II completed the first three airborne gunfire bursts from its internal Gun Airborne Unit (GAU)-22/A 25mm Gatling gun system(Credit: Lockheed Martin)

A Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft has fired its machine guns for the first time while airborne. The three bursts from the internal Gun Airborne Unit (GAU)-22/A 25mm Gatling gun system mark the second phase of testing to certify that the machine gun configuration is functional in all parts of the F-35A Conventional TakeOff and Landing (CTOL) variant's configurations and flight envelope.

The test was carried out over the Edwards Air Force Flight Test Center's gun harmonizing range in California using the F-35A test aircraft AF-2, which was converted to conform to full-production internal gun installation. The four-barrel, 182-round, 25mm gun is embedded in the F-35A's left wing and covered by a door to reduce its radar signature when not in use. It had previously performed 13 ground firings before the October 30 flight test.

Designed to engage air-to-ground and air-to-air targets, the machine gun is part of the standard armament for all three variants of the 5th generation fighter. The F-35 is designed to combine stealth with fighter speed and agility, as well as advanced sensors and networking capability. Ultimately, it's intended to replace a large number of US combat aircraft, as well as those of 10 other nations.

Lockheed says that the latest test was a major milestone for obtaining US Air Force Initial Operational Capability (IOC) next year. Further testing will be carried out over the next year as the gun is fully integrated into the production F-35's systems and sensor fusion software, which feeds data to the pilot's helmet display. These tests will include air-to-air and air-to-ground exercises and are expected to be completed by 2017.

"The successful aerial gun test sortie was a culmination of several years' planning, which intensified in the first half of 2015 at the Edwards F-35 Integrated Test Force Flight Test Squadron with a team of Air Force, Lockheed Martin, Pratt & Whitney, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman personnel," said Mike Glass, Edwards ITF flight test director. "The results of this testing will be used in future blocks of testing, where the accuracy and mission effectiveness capabilities will be evaluated."

The video below shows the in-flight test firing.

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