F-35 Lightning II Passes One More Test Flight

In early January, Lockheed Martin reported that the F-35 Lightning II successfully passed its second round of flight tests. The tests were conducted at the company’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The stealth fighter will eventually replace many of the aircraft, such as the A-10s, F/A-18 Hornets, F-16s, and AV-8B Harriers currently in service for the United States military. The F-35 Lightning II is also slated to replace the United Kingdom’s Sea Harriers and Harrier GR-7 aircraft.

During the 62-minute test flight, F-35 Lightning II Chief Test Pilot Jon Beesley focused on the airplane’s maneuverability and landing gear operation. With the F-35 Lightning II’s gear retracted, Beesley ascended from 15,000 to 20,000 feet. In cruise mode at Mach 0.6 (around 450 m.p.h.) and Mach 0.7 (around 530 m.p.h.), the plane handled well. Beesley executed a series of turns, rolls, engine throttle changes, and angle-of-attack adjustments.

Later that same month, BAE Systems announced that they had completed and test flown the Joint Strike Fighter Cooperative Avionics Test Bed (CATB), nicknamed “CAT-Bird.” The CATB is a 737-300 jet heavily modified for the express purpose of supporting the testing of the F-35 Lightning II. Essentially, it duplicates the F-35’s avionics suite. In place of the typical 737 cockpit is a mockup of the F-35 Lightning II. Other modifications include an F-35-like nose extension, leading edges, and electronic equipment housing. The primary goal of the CAT-Bird is to determine if the F-35 Lightning II can accurately collect data from various sensors and pass that information on to the fighter jet’s pilot.

The 737 also has room for 20 workstations and the avionics technicians who monitor and analyze the testing results. Altogether, engineers estimate that the CAT-Bird will require around 20 sorties before the preliminary testing is complete. Once that is finished, testing of the F-35 Lightning II’s sensor architecture will begin.

Lockheed Martin is working with BAE Systems and Northrop Grumman to develop the F-35 Lightning II. Two different engines will be used for the F-35 fighter jet: the Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team F136 and the Pratt & Whitney F135.