The US Navy is a step closer to taking possession of its first-ever stealth fighter, the F-35C Lightning II. The 5th generation supersonic fighter plane was displayed at the company’s Fort Worth plant in front of top navy personnel this week and will undergo a wide-ranging series of ground tests before its first flight, scheduled for late 2009.

The first F-35C, known as CF-1, is the ninth F-35 test aircraft to be rolled out, and joins a fleet of F-35A (conventional takeoff and landing) and F-35B (short takeoff/vertical landing) variants that have logged more than 100 flights. These aircraft are well suited to service at sea.

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The F-35C is on schedule to meet the Navy’s Initial Operational Capability in 2015, combining stealth with supersonic speed, high agility and aa comprehensive sensor package.

The F-35C’s attraction for the Navy is its carrier suitability and low-maintenance stealth materials designed for long-term durability in the carrier environment. The Lightning II’s operational and support costs are said to be lower than those of the fighters it will replace.

The F-35 Lightning and F-22 Raptor are the world’s only 5th generation fighters, uniquely characterized by a combination of advanced stealth with supersonic speed and high agility, sensor fusion, network-enabled capabilities and advanced sustainability.

Three F-35 models, all stemming from a common design, have been developed together using the same infrastructure worldwide. Initially, they will replace at least 13 types of aircraft for 11 nations.

Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Two separate, interchangeable F-35 engines are under development: the Pratt & Whitney F135 and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team F136.

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