He said the program office had planned some flexibility into the testing schedule for the year, but that had been used up by the two earlier groundings. “We are working hard to muscle through as best we can,” he said.
The Navy is also resurfacing a runway used by government officials for “check out flights” when each jet comes off the assembly line at Lockheed’s adjacent Fort Worth, Texas, plant. The work will close that runway for about a month, said Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein, beginning on August 1.
The U.S. military is keen to complete flight testing of the already delayed F-35 program, the Pentagon’s largest weapons program, so that it can begin to use the new jets for military operations. Other factors, including weather conditions, can also affect flight testing.
Civilian defense workers across the United States began taking unpaid leave on July 8 as part of an austerity plan that is expected to save $1.8 billion through September 30, the end of the 2013 fiscal year. The furloughs are part of nearly $37 billion in automatic across-the-board budget cuts that hit the Pentagon this year as part of a process known as sequestration that is aimed at curbing the U.S. government’s nearly trillion-dollar deficit.