Edwards readies for Joint Strike Fighter testing

  • Published
  • By Donna Miles
  • American Forces Press Service
All systems are moving toward "go" here as officials prepare for upcoming tests on the next-generation strike fighter, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

A new mission control room opened its doors earlier this month, equipped so the Integrated Test Force will be able to monitor real-time performance of the aircraft during its test missions here beginning this fall.

The long-awaited aircraft, the first to be developed within the Defense Department to meet the needs of three services, promises state-of-the-art technology at a cost officials say simply couldn't be matched by three separate aircraft programs.

"What's unique about this aircraft is that we're building three variants, all at once," said Marc Trinklein, deputy director for the Integrated Test Force.

These variants are designed for the specific needs of the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy, as well as international partners that are helping fund and develop the aircraft, he said. This represents the first time in military procurement history that the United States has partnered with another nation to build an aircraft from the ground up.

Current partners are the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway, but Trinklein said more are expected to sign on.

This arrangement brings unprecedented economies of scale. The aircraft's three models share many common designs, technologies and maintenance requirements, Mr. Trinklein said. For example, all three aircraft can use a common engine, one produced by two different contractors.

At the same time, he said, they'll deliver revolutionary new capabilities adapted for close-air support, tactical bombing and air-to-air combat missions.

The bulk of the F-35s will be the "A" model, configured for the Air Force to replace F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and complement the F-22 Raptor. They will feature conventional takeoff and landing capabilities.

This aircraft, which made its maiden flight at the Lockheed-Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas, in mid-December, is expected to undergo developmental testing here and at Fort Worth beginning in mid-2009 or early 2010.

Meanwhile, developmental testing for the other two F-35 variants, the "B" and "C" models, will take place at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.

The "B" model, being developed for the Marine Corps, will have short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities. It is designed to replace the Marines' F/A-18C and D Hornet fighters and AV-8B Harrier IIs.

Initial plans called for the models to be developed sequentially, "A" followed by "B," then by "C," but Mr. Trinklein said the "B" model has moved to the front of the line. "The Marines have the greatest need due to the age of the Harrier fleet," he said. "They are flying Harriers, and they are very old and not so capable, so they are recognized as the biggest need."

The F-35B is expected to make its first flight in May 2008.

The "C" model F-35 will be adapted for the Navy for carrier landings. It will feature larger, folding wings and stronger landing gear than the other variants and complement the F/A18 "E" and "F" models.

After developmental testing here and at Patuxent River, all three models - six of each, plus two British versions -- will undergo operational testing here beginning in 2011, Mr. Trinklein said.

The goal, he said, is to get the first F-35B's fielded to the Marine Corps in 2012. The other two models are expected to follow to their respective services in 2013.

When they're delivered, these aircraft will bring cutting-edge technologies. They'll provide a level of stealth not found in previous Navy and Marine Corps aircraft and a highly advanced radar capability, Mr. Trinklein said, "is incredible compared to what's out in the field now."

An infrared electro-optical targeting system will provide "awesome" detail, and an integrated distributed aperture sensor system will enable a pilot to see infrared imagery from any direction via a helmet-mounted display, he said.

"This is a huge step in situational awareness," Mr. Trinklein said. "It's revolutionary to have the pilot to have no blind spots, day or night."

An autonomic logistics system is designed to run without paper, technical orders or even checklists.

The aircraft also will monitor its own systems and issue reports as needed. "It's designed to be predictive," Mr. Trinklein said. "It will be able to tell if a system is starting to degrade before it becomes a problem. It will say what part is needed, so that part can be ready when the plane lands."

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