December 17, 2006 The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II lifted into the skies for the first time on Friday, completing a successful inaugural flight and initiating the most comprehensive flight test program in military aviation history. The stealthy, multi-service F-35 is the most powerful single-engine fighter in history, and is designed to replace the F-16, F/A-18 Hornet, the Harrier and the A-10. The Lightning’s Pratt & Whitney F135 engine is the most powerful engine ever used in a jet fighter, producing 40,000 pounds of thrust.
“The Lightning II performed beautifully,” said F-35 Chief Pilot Jon Beesley following the flight. “What a great start for the flight-test program, and a testimony to the people who have worked so hard to make this happen.” The most powerful engine ever placed in a fighter aircraft – the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan, with 40,000 pounds of thrust – effortlessly pushed the F-35 skyward.
The flight of the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35 variant began at 12:44 p.m. CST at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, when the jet lifted off and began a climb-out to 15,000 feet. Beesley then performed a series of maneuvers to test aircraft handling and the operation of the engine and subsystems. He returned for a landing at 1:19 p.m CST. Two F 16s and an F/A-18 served as chase aircraft.
The stealthy F-35 is a supersonic, multi-role, 5TH Generation fighter designed to replace a wide range of existing aircraft, including AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and United Kingdom Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers.
“The first flight of the F-35 Lightning II is an historic moment because, for the first time ever, we are seeing the dawn of an aircraft with all the 5TH Generation attributes – including advanced stealth, fighter agility, sensor fusion and greatly improved supportability – combined in an affordable package,” said Ralph Heath, president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. “The F-35 will be the most advanced and most capable multi-role fighter on the international market for many, many years to come.”
Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, said the aircraft has continued to meet or exceed expectations during its assembly and pre-flight checkouts. It has now embarked on a 12,000-hour flight-test program designed to validate tens of thousands of hours of testing already completed in F-35 laboratories. “The F-35 will enter service as the most exhaustively tested, most thoroughly proven fighter system in history,” Crowley said. “And thanks to its all-digital design, an exceptionally talented international engineering team and the world’s best assemblers and mechanics, the F-35 has completely rewritten the book on fighter assembly precision and quality.”
The United States and eight international partners are involved in the F-35’s funding and development. The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy plan to acquire a total of 2,581 F-35s. Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway also are partners in the program and are expected to add about 700 more aircraft to the total. F-35 sales to other international customers could push the final number of aircraft to 4,500 or beyond.
“We believe the F-35 is poised to become the world standard-bearer of fighter aircraft,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of F-35 program integration.
Three versions of the F-35 are under development: a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant for conventional runways, a short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant for operating off small ships and near front-line combat zones, and a carrier variant (CV) for catapult launches and arrested recoveries on board the U.S. Navy’s large aircraft carriers.