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Thu, Jun 12, 2008

F-35B STOVL Fighter Makes First Flight

Second Of Planned 19 Development Aircraft

With test pilot Graham Tomlinson at the controls, the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II streaked into blue Texas skies Wednesday, marking the first flight of an aircraft that will provide a combination of capabilities never before available: stealth, supersonic speed and STOVL basing flexibility.

Tomlinson, a former Royal Air Force Harrier pilot now employed by BAE Systems, performed a conventional takeoff at 1017 CDT from Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth facility. As planned, all initial F-35B flights will be made using conventional takeoffs and landings, with transitions to short takeoffs, hovers and vertical landings beginning early next year.

Tomlinson guided the jet to 15,000 feet and performed a series of handling tests, engine-power variations and subsystems checks before landing at 1101 CDT. "A great team effort led to a relaxed first flight, with the aircraft handling and performing just as we predicted based on STOVL simulator testing and flying the F-35A," Tomlinson said.

The F-35B, known as BF-1, becomes the second Lightning II to enter flight test, preceded by the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A, which first flew in December 2006 and has completed 43 flights. The F-35B that flew Wednesday is the second of 19 System Development and Demonstration aircraft and the first to incorporate new weight-saving design features that will apply to all future F-35 aircraft.

Though nearly identical in appearance to the F-35A, the F-35B incorporates a counter-rotating shaft-driven lift fan positioned directly behind the cockpit. The lift fan, produced by Rolls-Royce, is turned by a drive shaft from the F-35's massively powerful single engine, which features a swiveling rear exhaust nozzle that vectors thrust downward during vertical flight.

The lift fan, engine and stabilizing roll ducts beneath the F-35B's wings combine to produce 40,000 pounds of lifting force. Converting the F-35B from STOVL to conventional flight and vice-versa requires only the push of a button by the pilot. The system otherwise operates automatically.

"We're absolutely convinced that this aircraft is going to only further enhance what is a tremendous asymmetric advantage that we hold in terms of controlling the air, taking advantage of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, multi-sensor capabilities, and the ability, if need be, to drop a bomb in a precision strike," said Gen. James Conway, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

Three versions of the F-35 will be produced. The F-35A CTOL variant will operate from conventional runways; the STOVL F-35B will fly off small ships and near front-line combat zones; and the F-35C carrier variant (CV) will be designed for catapult launches and arrested recoveries aboard the US Navy's large aircraft carriers.

The F-35B will be the first of the three Lightning II variants to achieve Initial Operational Capability, beginning with the Marines in 2012. The STOVL variant also will be used by the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, and Italy's Air Force and Navy. With the capability to operate from a variety of ships or austere runways, the F-35B can deploy closer to shore or near front lines, shrinking distance and time to the target, increasing sortie rates and greatly reducing the need for support assets.

FMI: www.teamjsf.com, www.lockheedmartin.com

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