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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: Jack of all trades and Master of None
By marvdmartian on 12/18/2006 2:57:47 PM , Rating: 2
What I find amazing is that the F-14 was recently retired, due to the F/A-18 (allegedly) doing the job better, and at lower maintenance cost (likely the real reason why).

Now they're saying that the 18's going to be replaced with a 35? Is that only the fighter role that will go to the new kid on the block, with the 18 retaining the attack role, or will the 35 take over every role of the 18??

Things sure have changed in the past 20 years, as the F/A-18 entered the fleet. Back then, we had A6's for attack (now F/A-18) and in-flight refueling (now S-3's), EA-6B's for radar suppression (now handled by S-3 Vikings, if I'm not mistaken), S-3's for sub hunting (is the F-35 supposed to take over that role as well?), and F-14's for attack and ship defense (now handled by the F/A-18's).

I can't really see a planed designed as a fighter taking over the roles of in-flight refueling or sub-hunting, to tell the truth. Both roles require a plane that can loiter for a while, but still have the capability for quick dashes when required. Plus, you want something with some big ol' tank capacity and/or weapons carrying ability (those MK48 torpedoes ain't light, ya know??).

Anyone heard anything about the eventual replacement of the S-3 Vikings?? Those "Hoovers" have been in the fleet for a while now, and I wonder if the navy has any plans to retire them sometime soon.

By Martin Blank on 12/18/2006 3:13:10 PM , Rating: 2
I posted below about the advantages of the Super Hornet over the Tomcat. The F-35 will not be replacing the F/A-18E/F line, but complementing it.

The Super Hornet has already demonstrated in-flight refueling capabilities, so it can take over that. The EA-18G will be handling radar suppression when it comes online, replacing the EA-6B. The S-3s are due to be retired by 2009, and their duties spread about the fleet. I'm in the group that thinks that the lack of a dedicated anti-sub replacement is a bad idea, but I have little sway in this matter.

By rcc on 12/18/2006 4:41:20 PM , Rating: 2
can't really see a planed designed as a fighter taking over the roles of in-flight refueling or sub-hunting, to tell the truth. Both roles require a plane that can loiter for a while, but still have the capability for quick dashes when required. Plus, you want something with some big ol' tank capacity and/or weapons carrying ability (those MK48 torpedoes ain't light, ya know??).

OK, Mk48s aren't light, neither are they air launched. It's a 21" sub borne system. You are thinking of the Mk46, or maybe the Mk50? replacement. Either of which is a whole lot smaller.

By stromgald on 12/18/2006 5:02:00 PM , Rating: 2
I think you may be missing the fact that there's two versions of the F/A-18, the Hornet and SuperHornet. The Hornet (A/B/C/D) versions of the F/A-18 are being replaced by the F-35. The Superhornet (E/F) is an super-sized version of the Hornet that is about the same size as a F-14. Its relatively new (1990s) and has as much or better capability as the F-14 in ordnance and avoinics/electronics.

However, I was very disappointed in the Navy's decision to replace the F-14 with a scaled up F/A-18 C/D. The F/A-18 E/F has poorer range and higher takeoff/landing speeds (especially bad for aircraft carriers) despite its increased payload and manuverability. In fact, I'm not very impressed by any of the Navy's choices in aircraft except for the new F-35. The F/A-18 role should've been taken care of by a F-16 derivative, and the F-14 shouldve been replaced by something better than scaling up an already poor fighter.

The S-3 is going to be replaced (at least partially) by the MMA I think. MMA stands for multi-mission maritime aircraft and will be built off the highly economical (aka cheap) 737 commercial jet platform.

By Mclendo06 on 12/18/2006 7:06:13 PM , Rating: 2
You hit the nail on the head. When you look at aircraft, there has steadily been a decline over the years since the mid 60s of the number of man-hours of maintenance required per flight-hour. Things were starting to get out of control with regards to this number, and so aircraft designs began to focus more on maintainability and ease of maintenance. The F-14, while a very capable aircraft, bucked this trend pretty bad. I can't recall exact numbers, but I do remember from some charts that I saw in some classes recently that the F-14 required at least twice the maintenance man-hours of comparable aircraft. Aircraft downtime is a major factor when you are limited to a certain aircraft compliment by the size of your airfield (in this case, a huge ship). Also, I agree that the F-35 will not be as capable as some of the aircraft which it is replacing of the missions it is supposed to fulfill, but there are benefits in standardization such as training and parts cost. Also, the F-35 is supposed to be a stealthy aircraft, which represents an improvement over all of the aircraft it is replacing. With regards to the issue of only having one engine, this is a trade which the navy finally decided to make. Yes, with two engines there is improved redundancy, but there is also added complexity which increases cost. Modern engines have become extremely reliable, and so the peacetime risks associated with only having one engine are much lower than they were say 20 years ago. True, if the F-35 gets shot, the fact it has only one engine will result in lower survivability, but as a stealth aircraft, it will be exceptionally difficult to track and engage. I believe that the F-35 will perform the tasks set out for it acceptably well, and that it will add value to the aircraft fleets it is entering.

"If you can find a PS3 anywhere in North America that's been on shelves for more than five minutes, I'll give you 1,200 bucks for it." -- SCEA President Jack Tretton
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