F-35B Starts Second Round Of Sea Trials

By Amy Butler, Graham Warwick
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology

During the 2011 DT trials for the F-35B on the Wasp in 2011, officials conducted the first-ever vertical landing of the aircraft on a ship at sea.

Back on land, Lockheed Martin is working on various software releases needed first for the U.S. Marine Corps IOC in December 2015, and a year later for the U.S. Air Force's IOC.

As of Aug. 6, 64% of the Block 2B “onboard” software integration testing is complete, says Laura Siebert, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman. The latest delivery related to 2B was finished in the last week of July and this software package is being tested on flight-test aircraft in the fleet. The final 2B release is slated for March 2014 with integration of the software into the fleet in mid-2015, she says. The Marine Corps plans to declare initial operational capability with the 2B software, while the Air Force is holding out for the Block 3i.

Roughly 65% of the overall development work is complete on Block 3, Siebert says. Initially, engineers are porting the code from earlier software blocks into the Block 3 hardware baseline; this is slated to go out to flight-test aircraft starting in the third quarter of this year. Actual flight-testing is expected to start by year-end.

A second phase of the Block 3 work will include an additional 840,000 source lines of code that will add “new weapons and expand the robustness of the overall weapon system,” Siebert says. This new code has been operated on the new Block 3 hardware.

However, more progress has been made on the 3i release—which includes new hardware suitable for release to the F-35's international customers—than on the 3F. Sixty-one percent of the “prime” software development for Block 3i is complete while only 34% is finished for the 3F, which will include a larger flight envelope and internal weapons. (Block 2B only includes external weapons storage.) The 3i software is set to be released to the flight-test fleet by the end of the third quarter of this year and will begin being added to Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) 6 aircraft by year-end. The 3F is slated for release to the flight-test fleet in September 2014, and will begin to be added to production aircraft in LRIP 9. It is slated for release to the rest of the fleet in the third quarter of 2017.

The F-35 Joint Program Office is planning at the end of this month to brief Kendall on the status of work to overcome technical issues with the F-35 helmet-mounted display system. A downselect between the original advanced helmet design, built by Vision Systems International (VSI, a joint venture between Rockwell Collins and Elbit), and a more rudimentary backup made by BAE Systems was slated for 2014. “If we can get the baseline to where we need to be, then we can downselect,” he said. “If not, then we are going to delay downselect for a while.”

The VSI helmet now in use—the Gen 2 helmet—incorporates an ICIE-10 night-vision camera, which was creating problems with the acuity of imagery projected onto the helmet at night. Flight-testing of the solution, the so-called ICIE-11 camera, and improved image-processing software in the helmet, took place in a Cessna last month. “The testing proved successful, with pilots reporting a substantial improvement in camera capability over the existing ISIE-10 night camera in the Gen 2 helmet,” said Kyra Hawn, a spokeswoman for the F-35 Joint Program Office.

The ISIE-11 camera is not being used for the DT trials on the Wasp; the “Gen 3” helmet (which will include the ISIE-11 and other improvements) is not slated to be ready until the second quarter of next year, Hawn says. All three F-35 variants will be used for the Gen 3 helmet-testing for two months. For the Wasp trials, pilots will use the ISIE-10 camera in the Gen 2 helmet and the digital night-vision capability provided by the Distributed Aperture System, a series of six sensors outside the aircraft designed to give the pilot a 360-deg. view of the surrounding airspace.


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