Lockheed Martin's three F-35 Lightning II strike fighter variants have completed what the company called the most comprehensive flight test program in aviation history. On April 11 at US Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, Navy test aircraft CF-2 carrying external 2,000-lb (907-kg) GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) and AIM-9X Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles completed the final developmental test flight of the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the program.

According to Lockheed, a team of over a thousand SDD flight test engineers, maintainers, pilots, and support personnel completed full flight-envelope tests on all three variants of the F-35, including six at-sea detachments with over 1,500 vertical landing tests for the F-35B, 183 Weapon Separation Tests, 46 Weapons Delivery Accuracy tests, and 33 Mission Effectiveness tests that included multi-ship missions with eight F-35s taking on advanced threats. One remarkable aspect of this testing program was that it didn't involve a loss of either a single pilot or airframe.

"Completing F-35 SDD flight test is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication from the joint government and industry team," says Vice Adm. Mat Winter, F-35 Program Executive Officer. "Since the first flight of AA-1 in 2006, the developmental flight test program has operated for more than 11 years mishap-free, conducting more than 9,200 sorties, accumulating over 17,000 flight hours, and executing more than 65,000 test points to verify the design, durability, software, sensors, weapons capability and performance for all three F-35 variants. Congratulations to our F-35 Test Team and the broader F-35 Enterprise for delivering this new powerful and decisive capability to the warfighter."

The F-35 lightning II is a multi-role aircraft that will replace a wide variety of warplanes for the US Air Force, US Navy, US Marines, the Royal Navy, and other overseas customers. The F-35A standard, F35C strike carrier, and the F-35B VSTOL variants are designed for both air superiority and for air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities to suppress enemy air defenses. In addition, it uses intelligent combat systems for networking and Command/Control capability to provide unprecedented situational awareness of the battle space.

Now that the SDD phase has been completed, the F-35 needs to pass through an Operational Test and Evaluation before the US Department of Defense can give the go-ahead for full-scale production, starting with the Block 3F capability being cleared for operations. In addition, flight tests will continue to help improve performance and modernize the aircraft as technology progresses.

"The F-35 flight test program represents the most comprehensive, rigorous and the safest developmental flight test program in aviation history," says Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin's vice president and general manager of the F-35 program. "The joint government and industry team demonstrated exceptional collaboration and expertise, and the results have given the men and women who fly the F-35 great confidence in its transformational capability."

The Royal Navy video below outlines the comprehensive flight test program.

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