August 19, 2013
Credit: U.S. Navy
As the F-35B conducts a second round of developmental tests on the USS Wasp amphibious assault ship, program officials say progress is being made with technical problems that have beleaguered the single-engine fighter program. But, Pentagon procurement czar Frank Kendall says he remains “cautiously optimistic”—though not yet confident—that enough progress will be made in the testing program for him to approve a ramp-up in production this fall for the $400 billion Lockheed Martin program, as planned.
“We will increase production based on progress,” he told Aviation Week at the 16th Annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium last week in Huntsville, Ala. “I am looking at progress on software and on some of the design issues that we have been following, like the tailhook and the helmet.”
Two F-35Bs are on the USS Wasp amphibious assault ship for the second round of developmental testing (DT) trials associated with the aircraft's unique ability to conduct vertical landings and short takeoffs in support of the U.S. Marine Corps. The Wasp trials, slated for three weeks, began Aug. 12.
The objective of these trials is to focus on night flying around, on and off the ship. Night flying from the ship is one of the capabilities needed for the U.S. Marine Corps to declare initial operational capability (IOC) as planned by the end of December 2015.
Also on the agenda is flying, landing and taking off in heavier and more taxing wind conditions and more severe sea states than was experienced during the October 2011 DT trials onboard the Wasp. During tests this month, the Pentagon will check refinements to the F-35B's integrated propulsion and flight control systems. The initial trials in 2011 were “a testament to how well it works on a real deck,” says Steven Wurth, technical lead for F-35 propulsion at Lockheed Martin. “The next deployment, with its higher sea states, will stress the system,” he said during the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics' Aviation 2013 conference in Los Angeles last week. Lockheed refined the integrated propulsion and flight control system based on the results of the 2011 sea trials.
Pilots will also test for the first time the aircraft's behavior on ship approaches, landings and takeoffs while it is loaded with various weapons.
Four pilots have been selected for the DT trials: two are from the U.S. Marine Corps; one is from the United Kingdom, which—along with Italy—is buying the F-35B; and one works for BAE, which produces the aft fuselage and empennage for the aircraft. The U.K. pilot will be the first from that nation to land an F-35B at sea.