the F-35 Lightning II variants currently in testing, the most troubled has been
the F-35B STOVL fighter. The aircraft has had recurring issues with
sub-components that are failing at higher than expected rates leading to
problems and delays in the flight program.
The F-35B fighter was also dealt a blow when the program was recently put on a 2-year
probationary period. Lockheed is still hard at work on the F-35B and the
aircraft has shown some progress recently. Defense News reports
that the aircraft has had a series
of five vertical landings over the last eight days that have come off
without a hitch.
The vertical landing tests were performed between January 6 and 13. The five
successful landings are part of the 42 that must be completed before the
aircraft can be tested at sea on an amphibious assault ship. When the remaining
tests will happen is unknown; so far the 2011 flight test schedule has not been
"I think it does [signal that the program is getting back on track]. This
program has never been quite as troubled as many critics thought. I think it's
probably progressed more smoothly than other fighter development program with
the possible exception of the F-16," said Loren Thompson, an analyst at
the Lexington Institute (Arlington, Virginia). The F-16's development proceeded
so smoothly because of the simple nature of the original version of that
aircraft, he said.
Thompson also notes that the issues the F-35 has faced so far are common
teething problems that can be found in new aircraft programs. By comparison,
the issues that the F-22
Raptor faced were much worse.
Group analyst Richard Aboulafia said that the challenges left in the F-35B
program can be addressed in the 2-year probationary period.