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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: US should fund this as well...
By harshw on 12/18/2006 8:38:33 PM , Rating: 2
The F-35 is certainly not on the same level as the Su-37/Su-35. The SU-37 competes with the F-22 rather than the F-35. The Russian equivalent of the F-35 is the PAK-FA programme.

Right now, the only country with a complete fleet of operational TVC aircraft is India with around 36 aircraft: see But the SU-30MKI is too expensive to use as a mainline fighter, just as the F-22 is too expensive. Hence the need for the F-35 and the PAK-FA. As for the fact that the F-35 is more manouverable than the SU-30MKI or the SU-35/37, all I can say is that the MKI variant has been flying for some time while the F-35 is doing maiden flights now ...

By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 12/19/2006 6:15:19 PM , Rating: 1
The PAK-FA is actually two separate aircraft (last I checked anyway) since an X-craft has not been chosen. This consists of the Sukhoi Su-47 and MIG-1.44/1.42. Although the aircraft is supposed to compete with the F-22, it has a 2015 intro date also.

While we are on the topic of TVC, also check out India's HAL Tejas. It's set to be the country's mainline fighter in the next few years. It might not hold much weight against a Su-37 or F-22, but as far as other delta-wing aircraft go it's impressive. Oh and it's made almost exclusively in India.

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