Lockheed Martin Provides F-35 Flight-test Update

 - October 19, 2012, 11:05 AM
Flight-testing of the F-35 recently included the first weapons drops. Here, a 1,000-pound GPS-guided GBU-32 JDAM is released from an F-35B flying at 4,200 feet and 400 knots. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

Flight-testing of the Lockheed Martin F-35 is ahead of the 2012 plan, and software development is making up lost ground, now standing at two months behind schedule. Steve O’Bryan, Lockheed Martin’s v-p for F-35 program integration and business development, told a meeting in London sponsored by The Air League that the F-35B STOVL version that the UK will buy is 40 percent ahead on flights and test points. Of the nine million lines of software code in the aircraft, 87 percent is now in flight test, with another 6 percent in laboratory tests. In response to earlier concerns, Lockheed Martin established a second software laboratory at its Fort Worth facility, at a cost of $150 million and employing 200 more people.

O’Bryan also described the status of efforts to resolve development problems with the F-35’s unique helmet-mounted sight. In the latest simulations, the device demonstrated a latency of only 130 milliseconds, against a 150-millisecond requirement. A new near-infrared camera to improve night-vision acuity is being tested at MIT Lincoln Laboratories and will be flight-tested next year. The “micro-IMUs” (inertial measurement units) that are designed to solve the “jitter” problem are already in flight-test.

The F-35 flight envelope has now been extended to 700 knots, 7g and 20 degrees angle of attack, with higher AOAs to be flown later this year, O’Bryan continued. An F-35A dropped a 2,000-pound GBU-31 BLU-109 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) for the first time this week, from the left internal weapons bay. This follows the first F-35 weapons release, of a 1,000-pound GBU-32, which took place in August. AIM-9X AAMs are flying on outboard wing stations. Forty five F-35s are flying today; another 15 have been rolled out, and the 112th aircraft is now on the final assembly line. Twenty aircraft are now at Eglin AFB, the initial training base; deliveries for the first operational units will be made to Yuma MCAS and Nellis AFB before year-end.

O’Bryan did not mention development or production costs. Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon have been in protracted negotiations for the low rate initial production (LRIP) Lot 5. Only long-lead funding has been agreed. USAF Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, slated to be the next director of the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), was highly critical of the F-35 industry team led by Lockheed Martin for delaying contract talks, in remarks at the recent Air Force Association (AFA) convention.