Transatlantic ferry flights of four Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning IIs, due to make their international debut in the UK, were delayed this week by the engine fire that occurred June 23 at Eglin AFB. As a result, tentative plans to fly one or more of them over the naming ceremony for the UK’s new aircraft carrier were cancelled. HM The Queen will formally christen the big ship named after her, at Rosyth dockyard in Scotland on July 4.
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II procurement
The F-35B V/STOL version of the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter will not perform vertical landings during its international debut in the UK next month. The maneuver cannot be performed without risk of damage to runway surfaces, unless they have been constructed with high-temperature-resistant concrete. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed last week that three specially built vertical landing pads will be provided at RAF Marham, the planned UK base for the F-35B, at a cost of more than $12 million.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II will make its first appearance outside the U.S. this summer, flying at both the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and the Farnborough International airshow in England in mid-July, the UK Ministry of Defense (MOD) announced. The decision followed discussions between U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his UK counterpart, Philip Hammond.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II notched its 10,000th flight hour in September, and by the end of the month the combined Joint Strike Fighter fleet had flown 6,492 times for 10,077 hours. Illustrating the momentum that the program has built since operational production aircraft began training operations, more than half the total was amassed in the past 11 months. It had previously taken the program six years to reach the 5,000-hour milestone.
The Netherlands confirmed its previous choice of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II to replace the air force’s F-16s. But in a statement, the Dutch government noted that “based on current insights, the available financial room is sufficient for 37 aircraft.” A total of 85 had originally been planned.
Assembly of the first F-35 Joint Strike fighter to be produced outside the U.S. has begun in Italy. Manufacturers delivered major structural components to the new final assembly and check-out (FACO) facility at Cameri Air Base, west of Milan, where the first F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant, designated AL-1, will be assembled for the Italian air force. The facility is operated by a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Alenia Aermacchi.
Senior British military officials confirmed that the UK will conduct shipboard rolling vertical landing (SRVL) trials on the F-35B version of the Lockheed Martin Lightning II stealth combat jet. The SRVL technique would allow the aircraft to land at higher weights than is currently possible in the VTOL mode. The F-35B has faced weight problems, leading to concerns that it could not “bring back” to its aircraft carrier a useful weapons load that has not been expended in combat.
Operational testing and evaluation of the F-35A has begun, with the delivery of four aircraft to Nellis AFB. They were accepted by the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center in a ceremony on March 19. Eight more F-35As will join them by 2019. The Air Force has now received 24 F-35A conventional takeoff and landing aircraft. Another 34 F-35s have been delivered to the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy.
After protracted negotiations, Lockheed Martin reached an agreement in principle with the Pentagon for the fifth lot of low-rate initial production F-35s (LRIP-5). The company has reported new flight-test milestones for the Lightning II stealth fighter in recent weeks. But there was less good news from Canada, which is reconsidering its commitment to the F-35 on cost grounds.