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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 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.

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