F-35 Lightning II Flight Test Update 2

By Eric Hehs Posted 14 September 2010

The previous installment of the F-35 Flight Test Update ended with the first vertical landing of an F-35B. Since then, US Marine Corps and Lockheed Martin pilots flying the short takeoff/vertical landing version of the F-35 have gone on to complete an additional nine vertical landings. More than sixty flights have been completed in BF-1, the first F-35B. The F-35B fleet has accumulated more than 200 hours of flight time in more than 160 flights.

The first carrier-capable version of the F-35, the F-35C, was flown for the first time on 6 June 2010. After completing thirteen more flights, the aircraft, called CF-1, was pulled from the flight schedule for ground vibration testing. It is expected to be in the air again in October.

For the conventional takeoff and landing versions, F-35A AF-2 completed its first flight and was ferried with AF-1 to Edwards AFB, California. AF-3, which is equipped with mission systems, also completed its first flight and will soon join the F-35A fleet in California.

Overall, twelve company and military pilots are currently qualified to fly the F-35. Fourteen total F-35 pilots have flown more than 500 hours on more than 360 flights (as of 26 August 2010) in the current System Development and Demonstration phase of the program. The F-35 flight envelope has been expanded to 39,000 feet and Mach 1.2.

F-35 mission systems continue to be refined in ground-based laboratories and on the Cooperative Avionics Test Bed, a converted 737 that acts as an airborne laboratory. The CATBird, as the unique aircraft is called, has completed more than 130 flights, most of which have been in direct support of mission system testing for the F-35. The flights include deployments for testing at Edwards AFB, California, and Eglin AFB, Florida. (For more on this test asset, please see CATBird—The Flying Avionics Test Bed, also in this issue.)

1 April 2010: AF-1 New Paint

AF-1, the first optimized Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II conventional takeoff and landing test aircraft, rolls out of the F-35 Final Finishes Facility sporting a new fin flash paint scheme on its vertical stabilizers. While at the facility, the aircraft also received highly accurate robot-applied coatings. AF-1 was flown twice in 2009 before entering an intensive period of ground testing.

7 April 2010: BF-4 First Flight

The first F-35 equipped with mission systems, BF-4, is flown for the first time. During the flight from Fort Worth, Texas, Lockheed Martin test pilot David Nelson climbed to 15,500 feet, verified engine response at varying throttle settings, performed a series of flight-qualities maneuvers, and checked the operation of the aircraft’s mission systems. The F-35’s avionics, or mission systems, process, apply, and transfer data from an array of off-board sensors providing increased situational awareness to the pilot as well as to other air and surface forces.

20 April 2010: AF-2 First Flight

Lockheed Martin test pilot Jeff Knowles is at the controls for the first flight of AF-2. Taking off from NAS Fort Worth JRB, Knowles flies the aircraft to 15,000 feet and performs a series of test points during the one-hour mission, including throttle transients, landing gear cycles, speed brake cycles, and autopilot checks.

20 April 2010: AF-1 Completes Two Flights In One Day

Lockheed Martin test pilot David Nelson flies AF-1 for its third flight. He follows the 1.4-hour morning flight with a 1.5-hour flight in the afternoon. The second flight of the day is the fourth for the aircraft.

23 April 2010: F-35 ITF Director Completes First F-35 Flight

US Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Hank Griffiths, director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards AFB, California, completes his first flight in the F-35. Griffiths performs several test points on the 1.6-hour flight in AF-2 at Fort Worth, Texas.

27 April 2010: AF-1 Aerial Refuels

Lockheed Martin test pilot Jon Beesley completes a 2.5-hour air refueling qualification mission on the eighth flight of AF-1. The mission includes flying quality checks in formation with a KC-135 tanker at 20,000 feet. Beesley performs boom tracking, simulated emergency separations, precision contacts, and disconnects. The boom operator transfers 4,300 pounds of fuel to AF-1 during the flight.

4 May 2010: F-35B Flies With Internal Weapons

BF-2 is flown with an AIM-120 and GBU-12 during its twenty-fourth test flight. This flight is the first time an F-35B has flown with weapons in its internal weapon bay.

5 May 2010: 200th Test Flight

The F-35 program logs its 200th test flight when lead STOVL pilot Graham Tomlinson takes off in a short takeoff/vertical landing F-35B and flies for forty-four minutes near NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Tomlinson evaluates airframe loads during powered approach with the landing gear down and cycles the landing gear at different speeds and g loads.

11 May 2010: AF-1 And AF-2 Fly Together

F-35A AF-1 and AF-2 are flown in tandem during aerial refueling testing in preparation for a ferry flight to Edwards AFB, California.

16 May 2010: More Refueling Tests

Lockheed Martin test pilot David Nelson takes AF-2 through a series of additional aerial refueling tests during its sixteenth flight. The aircraft makes contact with the KC-135 tanker four times. The flight lasts 1.3 hours, and the tanker transfers 3,600 pounds of fuel to AF-2.

17 May 2010: AF-1 And AF-2 Arrive At Edwards

F-35A AF-1 and AF-2 are flown nonstop from Fort Worth, Texas, to Edwards AFB, California, signaling an expansion of F-35 flight test operations. The arrival is the first in a series that will increase the Edwards F-35 test fleet to at least eight aircraft. US Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Hank Griffiths and Lockheed Martin test pilot Jon Beesley fly the jets for this first multiship, long-range F-35 flight. While assigned to Edwards, the F-35s will undergo ground and flight test activities, including propulsion tests, aerial refueling, logistical support, weapons integration, and envelope expansion.

28 May 2010: CF-1 Completes First Taxi Test

Lockheed Martin test pilot Jeff Knowles takes the first F-35C, called CF-1, on its first taxi test in Fort Worth, Texas.

6 June 2010: F-35C First Flight

Lockheed Martin test pilot Jeff Knowles is at the controls for the first flight of CF-1 from NAS Fort Worth JRB, Texas. He takes the first F-35C to 12,000 feet and performs a set of maneuvers to evaluate handling characteristics and throttle transients to evaluate engine performance. At 10,000 feet, Knowles cycles the gear and extends the arresting hook. The aircraft is flown in formation with chase aircraft from 10,000 feet down to 5,000 feet. Knowles flies a simulated approach and waveoff before landing the aircraft.

7 June 2010: BF-4 Arrives At Pax River

The first F-35 equipped with mission systems joins the fleet at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. Piloted by Lockheed Martin test pilot David Nelson, BF-4 becomes the fourth F-35 to arrive and begin testing at the Naval Air Systems Command site.

10 June 2010: F-35B Goes Supersonic

The F-35B is flown faster than the speed of sound for the first time. The supersonic milestone is achieved on the thirtieth flight of BF-2 as US Marine Corps pilot Lt. Col. Matt Kelly climbs to 30,000 feet and accelerates to Mach 1.07 near NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

22 June 2010: AF-3 Completes Taxi Testing

Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill Gigliotti performs the last in a series of taxi tests in AF-3 in preparation for its first flight.

25 June 2010: BF-1 Completes Fiftieth Test Flight

Lead STOVL pilot Graham Tomlinson completes the fiftieth test flight of BF-1. The flight, from NAS Patuxent River in Maryland, involves several conversions to hover mode.

30 June 2010: BF-1 Completes Second Vertical Landing

Lead STOVL pilot Graham Tomlinson performs a ninety-knot short takeoff in BF-1 on its fifty-first flight and completes the second vertical landing.

6 July 2010: AF-3 First Flight

The third conventional takeoff and landing variant, AF-3, completes its first flight. Piloted by Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill Gigliotti, AF-3 takes off from NAS Fort Worth JRB, Texas. AF-3 is the ninth F-35 to fly and the second test jet to fly with the avionics package that is used in all operational F-35s.

17 July 2010: CF-1 Completes Airworthiness Testing

The first F-35C completes a series of fourteen airworthiness flights and enters a planned downtime for ground vibration tests.

20 July 2010: 300 F-35 Flights

The F-35 flight test program marks the 300th test flight. US Marine Corps pilot Lt. Col. Matt Kelly completes the 2.7-hour flight in BF-4 from NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

29 July 2010: AF-2 Begins Wet Runway Tests

AF-2, with Lockheed Martin test pilot Jeff Knowles as the pilot, begins a series of wet runway tests at Edwards AFB, California.

30 July 2010: Two Vertical Landings In Same Day

US Marine Corps pilot Lt. Col. Fred Schenk completes two sorties on BF-1’s fifty-seventh test flight (Note: A single test flight can have multiple takeoffs and landings). The flight includes two short takeoffs, one at eighty knots and another at ninety knots, and two vertical landings.

30 July 2010: CATBird Ferries To Edwards

The Cooperative Avionics Test Bed, known as CATBird, is ferried to Edwards AFB, California, for two weeks of mission system testing. The aircraft completes some of its longest flights (more than four hours) at Edwards.

21 August 2010: 100th Pax River Flight

Lockheed Martin test pilot David Nelson flies BF-3 on the 100th F-35 test flight out of NAS Patuxent River, Maryland.

27 August 2010: AF-1 Completes Fifty Flights

US Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Hank Griffiths completes the fiftieth test flight for AF-1. The one-hour flight, from Edwards AFB in California, is used to evaluate flying qualities.

Eric Hehs is the editor of Code One.