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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 tcsenter on 12/26/2006 2:10:14 AM , Rating: 2
A single F22 has also been shown to have a 8:0 or so kill ratio against the F15C in real life combat sims. F15C pilots complain they never even found the damn thing as they watched their buddies fall to radar locks one by one.
That's because most of the F-15C's combat systems and avionics suite are over 10 years old (in technology standards), particularly the inferior AN/APG-63(V)1 radar system, and deliberately being kept that way to justify the 'need' for the F-22. Though much improved over the original version, the APG-63(V)1 capabilities are still very dated and near the limits of its upgradeable processing and memory capacity.

Raytheon has developed a major retrofit package, the AN/APG-63(V)3, based on the same Active Electronically Scanned Array technology found in the F-22's AN/APG-77, with major processing, memory, and avionics capability increases over the AN/APG-63(V)1. Certain elements within the Air Force, defense industry, and Congress are trying to prevent this and other cost-effective improvements to the F-15C because it would close the capability gap between the F-22 and F-15C.

The F-15C's aerodynamics and flight performance characteristics are still on a par with newer aircraft, all it needs is a modern avionics and combat systems overhaul, as well as an engine upgrade and significant improvements in the reliability of several sub-systems, all of which have passed development and prototype phases and are ready for operational evaluation. A few studies/analysis of these improvements concluded the F-15's air superiority could be extended at least 15 years into the future for about $5 billion or less.
Now the F15C is the undisputed and unrivaled king of air to air fighter of the world... think about that for a second.
Correct, now think about why we are spending 200+ billion to 'replace' the "indisputed and unrivaled king of air-to-air (and multi-role) fighter" in the world when that status could be extended by at least 15 years at a cost of not more than $5 billion.

While we will need to replace the F-15 at some point, it is fairly indisputable that point would be no sooner than 2022 with cost-effective improvements, but for the 'push' in favor of the F-22 by certain interests within the defense industry and military. The further-out we attempt to predict the needs and capabilities of a future aircraft, the more likely those predictions will be wrong. The F-22 will already be 15 years-old when it is slated to finally replace the F-15. We could have kept it in development phase for another 10 years at a fraction of the cost and ended up with an even better and future proof replacement for the F-15C.

"There is a single light of science, and to brighten it anywhere is to brighten it everywhere." -- Isaac Asimov
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