Tuesday, April 5, 2011

STOVL F-35 Makes Headway Towards Sea Trials

STOVL F-35 Makes Headway Towards Sea Trials: "In numbers terms, the F-35B STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter has made rapid flight-test progress since the beginning of the year, racking up 61 vertical landings compared with just 10 in 2010. Improving mechanical reliability and adding aircraft to STOVL-mode flight testing appears to be paying off.

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Photos: Lockheed Martin

There is still work to be done to clear the F-35B for initial sea trials, now planned for late October or early November. According to Lockheed, two more vertical-landing (aka VL) test points are required: a pirouette VL to test side loads on the landing gear; and a 20kt-crosswind VL (for which the weather will have to cooperate).

In addition, 17 more unique short take-offs in different conditions and a fuel-purge test are required before the aircraft can be cleared for sea trials. Ship operability is one of the key characteristics that will determine whether the STOVL F-35 survives the two-year probation period imposed by defense secretary Robert Gates earlier this year.

Probation does not affect testing, but limits F-35B procurement to six each in FY2012 and 2013. Other key characteristics that will drive the decision on whether the F-35B will exit probation near the end of 2012 include weight, and specifically vertical-lift bring-back payload - roughly 3,000lb of unused weapons and fuel. The F-35B is meeting the spec, Lockheed says, but margin is tight.

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