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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 Chernobyl68 on 12/18/2006 5:51:59 PM , Rating: 2
A-6E Range : 2819 nautical miles, payload ~35,000lbs
F-18C/D Range: 330 miles, payload ~28,000 lbs
F-18E/F Range: 681 miles, Payload ~36,000 lbs

Range can be extended by tankers, but all that does is increase operational costs: more aircrew needed, more flight hours on equipment.
Air force tankers cannot refuel Navy planes.

When the F-18's were bombing in afghanistan, I remember hearing they had to be refueled 4 times, twice on the way in and twice on the way back. The tankers had to be refueled!

It used to be said that only about 6% of the earth's surface could not be reached by an Intruder.

By Martin Blank on 12/19/2006 12:51:44 AM , Rating: 3
Its ordinance payload was 18,000 pounds. The 35,000 pound loadout includes fuel. The range that you quote for the Intruder is the ferry range, while the ranges that you quote for the Hornets are the combat radii, which factor in time on station for patrol and combat. The ferry range for the C/D models is, according to the Navy, about 1800 miles, and about 1900 miles for the E/F line. Ranges without external tanks are 1100 and 1225 miles, respectively. No, they don't have quite the legs of the A-6, but they're also not so short as you suggest.

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