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  • F-35's Unequal Progress
    Posted by Graham Warwick 2:34 PM on Sep 12, 2010

    Lockheed Martin has begun engine runs on the first production F-35 as the Joint Strike Fighter program continues its Jekyll and Hyde progress. AF-6, one of two F-35A CTOL jets in the first low-rate initial production lot, completed high-power runs last week (Sep. 8).

    Thanks to the performance of the F-35A development jets, the JSF test program is running well ahead of plan for the year - 233 flights by the end of August against a plan of 196. But that disguises the fact that STOVL testing is well behind schedule, because of reliability issues with the F-35B test jets, with 122 flights by the end of August against a plan of 153 (and a target of 251 by year-end).

    You can read Amy Butler's story on STOVL testing here.

    If you factor in the 14 flights completed by the first F-35C carrier variant (against a plan of just 4), that means the two F-35As now at Edwards AFB have logged 97 flights this year against a plan of 39 - almost 2.5 times the scheduled rate. The smooth-running As are definitely "Jekylls" to the balky F-35B "Hydes".

    blog post photo
    Flying like Energizer bunnies. (Photo: DoD)

    The imbalance wasn't quite so bad in August, as availability of the STOVL jets improved. The two As at Edwards logged 22 flights against a plan of nine, while the four Bs at Pax logged 26 flights against a plan of 28 - the highest monthly totals yet. But even that rate will not get the STOVL program back on schedule by year-end.

    A critical measure is how quickly the first F-35B - aircraft BF-1 - is expanding the vertical landing envelope so the rest of the test fleet can be cleared for STOVL operations. That will require about 50 vertical landings - of which only 10 have been accomplished so far. Missing the target for fleet clearance by year-end could delay the first at-sea STOVL tests, planned for May 2011.

    Inside Defense reports that STOVL testing faces challenges getting back on schedule because of operating limitations that prevent the aircraft flying in "common weather conditions such as steady wind, wet tarmac and nearby lightning" I sense the ultra-cautious hand of Naval Air Systems Command in those restrictions.

    Meanwhile, the remaining JSF test jets are getting closer to flying. AF-3 is in final finishes and scheduled to fly in October; AF-4 is being prepared for engine runs and BF-5 for display checks, and both are planned to fly in the fourth quarter.

    Tags: ar99, tacair, F-35, JSF, afa10

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