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Lockheed's F-35 in flight -- image courtesy Lockheed Martin
The F-35 Lightning II makes its maiden flight

Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II single-seat fighter made its maiden flight this past Friday. The F-35 is the production version of the X-35 Joint Strike Fighter prototype which was selected over the competing Boeing X-32.

The flight marked the culmination of a five-year gestation period and was for the most part successful. "The Lightning II performed beautifully," said F-35 Chief Pilot Jon Beesley. The flight was scheduled to last an hour, but was ended after just 38 minutes. An in-flight glitch took place in which an air data probe flashed a warning in the cockpit. As a result, “gear-up" testing was not performed during the flight. "We designed the aircraft with redundancy so if one of the sensors is out we can fly with the other one. That part worked just fine," said Beesley.

There will be three distinct versions of the plane in the $276.6 billion USD program. Prices will range from $45 million USD per plane for the F-35A to $60 million per plane for the F-35C.

The F-35A is the smallest/lightest of the bunch and will be put into service by the US Air Force. It is destined to replace the F-16 and A-10 (oh how we will miss the GAU-8/A Avenger). The F-35B is the STOVL variant which will replace the AV-8 Harrier currently in service with the US Marine Corps. The F-35C will be used by the US Navy where it will replace the F-18A/B/C/D.

The United States is currently partnered with Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Denmark, Italy, The Netherlands, Norway and Turkey on the F-35 program. Other countries including Israel and Singapore are also interested in the F-35 program.

Given all the news surrounding the success of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), it would be interesting to see if Lockheed's proposed pilot-less variant of the F-35 will ever see the light of day -- if only in prototype form.

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RE: A-10 RIP
By Martin Blank on 12/18/2006 12:50:59 PM , Rating: 2
Don't look for the A-10 to be replaced by the F-35 yet. They tried it with the F-16, and found it to be too fast and too lightly armored to be effective in the same role. The Air Force has plans for upgrading the Warthog through at least 2025, and no other plane yet has proven itself able to take the low-altitude pounding that the A-10 has taken, survived, and retaliated against before returning to base.

RE: A-10 RIP
RE: A-10 RIP
By Aikouka on 12/18/2006 1:15:31 PM , Rating: 2
Correct, you won't see the A10 being replaced for awhile, simply because it's very good at what it can do. It was actually going to be scraped, until the use in Desert Storm and how invaluable it proved in low-altitude flight for long periods of time.

The A10 is still being worked on and kept up to date by Lockheed Martin:

RE: A-10 RIP
By borowki on 12/18/2006 2:07:32 PM , Rating: 2
The F-35 is also incredibly expensive. I don't know if we really want to put our pretty planes in situation where they could get shot up.

Maybe we ought to investigate making the A-10 design into a pilotless plane.

RE: A-10 RIP
By Wwhat on 12/18/2006 5:14:17 PM , Rating: 1
How the hell would someone think that a F35 would replace an A10? he just said he likes the A10 not that the F35 is a replacement anyway.
They are completely different machines with a completely different role, it's like saying the F35 will replace the spaceshuttle..

RE: A-10 RIP
By Wwhat on 12/18/06, Rating: 0
RE: A-10 RIP
By KristopherKubicki on 12/18/2006 5:28:37 PM , Rating: 5

The stealthy F-35 is a supersonic, multi-role, 5th-generation fighter designed to replace aging AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and United Kingdom Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers.

RE: A-10 RIP
By Aikouka on 12/18/2006 7:13:04 PM , Rating: 2
They won't be putting all the A-10's out of commission. LM SI still handles the prime contract to work with the A-10 and ensure that it is still of use to the military. Although, I wouldn't be surprised if the military paid for something they never used XD.

RE: A-10 RIP
By WhiteBoyFunk on 12/19/2006 12:17:37 PM , Rating: 2
I work on a base with huge depots where they have plans for the warthog for something like the next 20 years. The Army and Marine Corps won't let us drop the aircraft, not like we have a choice :P

RE: A-10 RIP
By CheesePoofs on 12/18/2006 5:30:00 PM , Rating: 2
It (F-35) is destined to replace the F-16 and A-10 (oh how we will miss the GAU-8/A Avenger).

RE: A-10 RIP
By crazydrummer4562 on 12/18/2006 6:47:35 PM , Rating: 3
They're completely different niches...The A-10 was designed around the GAU-8 cannon and was meant to be heavily armored for an aircraft, as well as the wing sweep angle, which is engineered for maximum lift at low speeds. Additionally the turbines are rear-mounted so that they recieve minimal ground fire. They're very different aircraft to begin with, it's pointless to compare them really.

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