F-35 completes final flight test program

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 The final developmental flight of the F-35 took place on April 11

The final test flight of the system development and demonstration phase of the F-35 program has taken place.

System development and demonstration (SDD) is one of the final stages of the US Department of Defense acquisition process and involves mature system development, integration and demonstrations, plus live fire test and evaluation, and initial operational test and evaluation.

The completion of the SDD phase means Block 3F software capability can be delivered to the operational warfighter, a mission systems avionics upgrade that improves memory, weapons delivery, storage, processing speed, display video and aircraft parametric data.

The final SDD flight occurred on April 11 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland. Navy test aircraft CF-2 was piloted by test pilot Peter Wilson to collect loads data while carrying external 2,000 lb GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions and AIM-9X Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles

Vice Adm. Mat Winter, F-35 program executive officer, said, “Since the first flight of AA-1 in 2006, the developmental flight test program has operated for more than 11 years mishap-free, conducting more than 9,200 sorties, accumulating over 17,000 flight hours, and executing more than 65,000 test points to verify the design, durability, software, sensors, weapons capability and performance for all three F-35 variants. Congratulations to our F-35 test team and the broader F-35 enterprise for delivering this new powerful and decisive capability to the warfighter.”

More than 1,000 SDD flight test engineers, maintainers, pilots and support personnel took the three variants of the F-35 to their full flight envelope to test aircraft performance and flying qualities. The test team conducted six at-sea detachments and performed more than 1,500 vertical landing tests on the F-35B variant.

The SDD flight test team completed 183 weapon separation tests; 46 weapons delivery accuracy tests; and 33 mission effectiveness tests, which included numerous multi-ship missions of up to eight F-35s against advanced threats.

Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 program said, “The F-35 flight test program represents the most comprehensive, rigorous and the safest developmental flight test program in aviation history. The joint government and industry team demonstrated exceptional collaboration and expertise, and the results have given the men and women who fly the F-35 great confidence in its transformational capability.”

The SDD phase will formally be completed after the USA’s Department of Defense conducts operational tests of the F-35.

However, F-35 flight testing will continue, as part of ongoing phased capability improvements and modernization of the F-35 that are intended to provide affordable incremental warfighting capability improvements.

Meanwhile, according to reports from Reuters, the Department of Defense has stopped accepting deliveries of F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin because of a contractual dispute over fixing a production error.

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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