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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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