F-35B Emerges from a Year of Probation

f 35b1  F-35B Emerges from a Year of Probation

(Image: US Navy, public domain)

Good news for the F-35B!  US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has lifted the short-takeoff-and-landing (STOVL) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter out of a probation period imposed more than a year ago by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  The stealthy fighter had suffered a number of setbacks leading to a multibillion-dollar restructuring programme designed to decouple its testing from that of its sibling aircraft – the F-35A and F-35C.

Aviation Week reported Friday that sufficient progress had been made to lift the probation.  Addressing a small group of government and industry representatives of the Joint Strike Fighter test team aboard USS Wasp, Panetta said:

“We now believe that because of your work the Stovl variant is demonstrating the kind of performance and maturity that is in line with the other two variants of JSF.  The Stovl variant has made — I believe and all of us believe — sufficient progress so that as of today I am lifting the Stovl probation.”

f 35b cut away  F-35B Emerges from a Year of Probation(Image: US Air Force, public domain)

When he imposed the probation period, Gates said that if the development programme didn’t turn around within two years he would recommend its termination.  And despite improvements, defense officials are expecting a reduction in production numbers of F-35s in the 2013 budget.  The US Marine Corps hopes the aircraft will be operational by 2016.  Italy is the F-35B’s only international customer after the UK walked away from the STOVL jet.

Lockheed’s CALF Aircraft Powered Model Seen on Google Earth

Lockheed CALF  Lockheed’s CALF Aircraft Powered Model Seen on Google Earth(Image: Google Earth 2011)

Sitting in a junk filled corner of Carswell Air Force Base near Fort Worth, Texas, is a corroding aircraft that formed the basis of Lockheed’s Joint Strike Fighter design. At first glance, the plane resembles an F-35 Lightning II, but is actually a large scale powered model built by Lockheed to meet DARPA requirements for an Advanced Short Takeoff Vertical Landing (ASTOVL) and Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF) aircraft.

F 35 lift fan  Lockheed’s CALF Aircraft Powered Model Seen on Google Earth(Image: Duch.seb, cc-sa-3.0)

The stealthy canard design, developed in the early 1990s, adopted a revolutionary lift fan to achieve short takeoff and vertical landing, helping cement Lockheed’s success in the later Joint Strike Fighter programme against Boeing’s X-32. At this stage of the programme, renamed Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) by 1995, competing designs were also submitted by McDonnell Douglas and Boeing.

Lockheed CALF Fort Worth  Lockheed’s CALF Aircraft Powered Model Seen on Google Earth(Image: Google Earth 2011)

While the ASTOVL/CALF/JAST design was not a flyable aircraft, it was also not a traditional full size replica. As a large scale powered model, the stealthy demonstrator was used in a series of ground-based tests, many focusing on the lift fan system. Despite an obvious resemblance, the final X-35 and F-35 designs differ significantly from CALF. The powered model, similar in size to the F-16 alongside it, looks like a gutted shell in these recent Google Earth images. Nearby is a mock-up of the ill-fated A-12 Avenger II attack aircraft, designed for the Navy, and cancelled in 1993 amid ongoing legal difficulties.

Are Lockheed’s Stealth Fighters Living up to Music Video – “Go Anywhere, Do Anything”?

lockheed f 35 lightning ii  Are Lockheed’s Stealth Fighters Living up to Music Video – “Go Anywhere, Do Anything”?(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

I noticed a clip of Lockheed Martin’s music video in Wired’s Danger Room, featured in a recent article about Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor and troubled F-35 Lightning II, developed from the Joint Strike Fighter project.  The video, which features no dropped bombs or fire missiles, is lyrically limited, essentially confine to the track’s title “Go Anywhere, Do Anything” – slightly ironic considering the temporarily grounded F-22.

f 22 raptor  Are Lockheed’s Stealth Fighters Living up to Music Video – “Go Anywhere, Do Anything”?(Image: U.S. Air Force, public domain)

Still, there are heavy drums and nice footage of essentially every aircraft Lockheed currently develops.  According to a 2010 article on CNBC, the professional musicians were recruited from Dallas-Fort Worth, where the F-35 is built, to “inspire [Lockheed’s] workforce and use in the local community”, although the music itself came from a production music library, not the band.  Will Lockheed’s Joint Strike Fighter be going anywhere and doing anything anytime soon?  Watch the full video here.