Flight operations of the F-35A Lightning II conducted by the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., were suspended after one of the fighters caught fire on June 23 as it prepared to take off on a training mission. The U.S. military is investigating the incident.
Eglin Air Force Base
The U.S. Air Force (USAF) approved full-rate production of the Sniper advanced targeting pod under its ATP-Sensor Enhancement (ATP-SE) program, manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced on January 16. In November, the service approved full-rate production of Northrop Grumman’s Litening pod under the same program.
Flight operations of the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (Stovl) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter remained suspended this week as U.S. military and contractor engineering teams investigated the cause of an engine fueldraulic line failure in a test aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The fueldraulic line is part of the fuel-based hydraulic system that controls the actuators of the F-35B’s vectoring exhaust system. The grounding did not affect the F-35A and C models, respectively, the conventional takeoff and carrier variants.
The U.S. Air Force declared the joint-service pilot training and maintenance wing for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter “ready for training” the first instructor pilots on the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant, beginning in January. Next summer, the wing will begin training Navy pilots on the F-35C carrier variant of the fifth-generation fighter.
“We live in a goldfish bowl,” sighed Lockheed Martin F-35 vice president customer engagement Steve O’Bryan. Speaking in London last March, he was referring to the stream of official reports, testimonies and comments that examine the Joint Strike Fighter program. This year alone, five major documents on the F-35 have reached the public domain. In January, a Pentagon operational test and evaluation report surfaced.
Lockheed Martin has described progress in the F-35 development program, and solutions to some of the problems that have recently been identified. Having exceeded the planned flight-test sorties and test points in 2011 by 15 percent, the company is hoping for similar gains this year. Of the 59,585 test points scheduled for the development phase through 2016, just over one-fifth had been flown by the end of December.
There was good news for the F-35 program when U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ended the two-year “probation” for the STOVL version a year early. Lockheed Martin F-35B executive v-p Larry Lawson said that “critical engineering challenges” had been solved.
Flight tests of the Lockheed Martin F-35 resumed after a two-week grounding. The Joint Program Office (JPO) said that the failure of a control valve had led to the malfunction of the aircraft’s Integrated Power Package (IPP), supplied by Honeywell. But an investigation continues, while a permanent resolution of the problem is being worked, the JPO added.
The first two production Lockheed Martin F-35s for operational training have been delivered to Eglin AFB, Florida, about one year behind schedule. F-35As AF-9 and AF-8, the first deliveries from low-rate initial production (LRIP) Lot 2, flew to the Florida base on July 14 and 20, respectively.
Lockheed Martin has learned “some painful lessons” during the development of the F-35, CEO Bob Stevens told journalists in late May. “There’s more realism now,” he added.
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