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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: A-10 RIP
By alcalde on 12/21/2006 3:14:39 PM , Rating: 2
Read William Grieger's Fortress America. Defense companies lobby to be able to export their newest creations to the rest of the world, then run to congress and tell them they have to fund a new generation of hardware because the rest of the world has caught up to us. :-( You'll encounter such mind-numbing tales in the book as the army dumping tanks into the ocean to form coral reefs because of the huge costs of maintaining vehicles designed to stop a Soviet advance into Europe that they obviously no longer needed, and then Congress turning around and authorizing a major new tank acquisition, and a military person required to make presentations to justify the need for newer generations of hardware, and when discussing future threats, embarrassed to have to put up a slide of the Eurofighter, bemoaning to the author later that he doesn't believe Britain or Italy are going to be attacking us soon. Awesome book.

RE: A-10 RIP
By masher2 on 12/21/2006 3:55:13 PM , Rating: 1
If you're talking about the M60 tanks the army used to test designer reefs, those are 1960s-era armaments. It was more than time to fund a revamp.

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