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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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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.

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