Lockheed Martin’s F-35 joint strike fighter program has passed a couple of more milestones as the $300 billion program, the Pentagon’s largest weapons-development effort, continues to make progress.
A U.S. Marine Corps test pilot became only the fourth man to fly one of the F-35 Lightning II test aircraft Thursday, taking off one day after British officials confirmed an order for that nation’s first three aircraft.
Maj. Joseph “O.D.” Bachmann took off at 11:29 a.m. in the prototype aircraft, AA-1, the 90th test flight of one of the three aircraft flown so far.
“The plane performed wonderfully,” Bachmann said in a short telephone interview after being debriefed after the one hour and 15 minute flight. “It was good to get out of the simulator and fly the jet itself,” Bachmann said. “It seemed to fly much better the less I touched it.”
Bachmann, who has more than 1,000 hours in Marine Harrier jets and another 400-plus hours in F/A-18s, said he’s convinced that the F-35 is going to offer his fellow Marine pilots a “quantum leap” in capability.
When fully developed, Bachmann said the F-35’s automated flight-control and navigation systems will be far superior to existing aircraft and allow the pilot to focus on finding and attacking targets and avoiding enemy aircraft and missiles.
“You spend a lot less time on the care and feeding of the airplane and spend more time with the weapons systems.”
Bachmann, who is part of the joint civilian and military flight-test team, will be one of the pilots assigned to testing the vertical flight capabilities of the F-35B model that the Marines will acquire.
The first F-35B began the first of a series of hover-pit tests Thursday. After completion of those tests in a few weeks, the plane will be flown to the Navy’s Patuxent River flight-test center in Maryland to commence short-takeoff and vertical-landing flight testing.
Bachmann predicted that flying the F-35B will be “markedly easier” than the Harrier, which the Marines and the British navy and air force now use. “The workload is going to be a quarter of the workload the Harrier is.”
Bachmann is the second active-duty service member to fly the F-35. Two civilian (but ex-military) test pilots, Jon Beesley of Lockheed and Graham Tomlinson of BAE Systems, have flown the bulk of the flights.
British Defense Secretary John Hutton, on a visit to Washington on Wednesday, confirmed Britain’s long-expected order for three F-35B aircraft to be used as part of the overall flight and systems development testing effort and for training British pilots.
Greece’s new F-16
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin continues to deliver the latest versions of the F-16 Falcon, the F-35’s predecessor.
In a ceremony Thursday, Lockheed officials formally handed over the first of 30 advanced F-16s to be produced for Greece’s Hellenic Air Force.
“We’ve made it our mission to provide the Hellenic Air Force with the world’s most advanced fourth-generation fighter,” Ralph Heath, president of Fort Worth-based Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co., said in presenting the aircraft to Greek military and government officials.
Father Michael Stearns, parish priest at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church of Fort Worth, blessed the aircraft.
Greece, which bought three lots of F-16s totaling 140 planes starting in 1988, ordered the latest 30 in December 2005. The aircraft are more advanced than the F-16s now flown by the U.S., which plans to replace its aircraft in a few years with F-35s.
Greece is also eyed as a likely F-35 customer.