Fort Worth, Texas: Lockheed Martin has said that the Joint Strike Fighter F-35 Lightning II has successfully completed the first stage of its airborne refuelling tests as part of the aircraft's 34th flight. Refuelling capability, Lockheed said, will expand the F-35 operating envelope and enable longer duration flights.
According to Lockheed, the new milestone is yet another in a series leading to first production deliveries in 2010.
"Our progress on the F-35 programme remains strong. The F-35 is flying and proving its value every day," said Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 programme general manager. "The F-35B, the first short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft, is on plan for a mid-2008 first flight. All 19 test aircraft are in manufacturing flow or on the flight line and assembly is under way on the first two production aircraft, which are on schedule for delivery to the US Air Force in 2010."
A specially instrumented KC-135 tanker is deployed to Fort Worth to support the refuelling missions, which will continue over the next two weeks.
"We've known since our first flight in 2006 that the F-35 is extraordinarily stable and controllable, and we've conducted extensive ground testing on the aerial refueling equipment, so it was no surprise that the tests today went smoothly," Crowley said.
During the test, the Lightning II was aloft for one hour and 34 minutes and completed multiple tanker engagements. The F-35 carries a prodigious amount of internal fuel -- more than 18,000 pounds -- giving it exceptionally long range without external tanks, and dramatically reducing its need for tanker support.
The internal-fuel configuration enables the Lightning II to remain stealthy by avoiding external tank carriage typically used by legacy fighters to extend range. Drop tanks reflect radar energy and can betray an aircraft's location. Operating without drop tanks also frees more stations for external weapons carriage when stealth is not required to fulfil mission objectives.
As the program progresses, international-participant support remains strong. The Netherlands Cabinet recently made a recommendation to Parliament to approve the procurement of two aircraft for operational test and evaluation. The United Kingdom and Italy also are in the process of making decisions on the procurement of test aircraft. All partner nations have parts or systems flying on the first Lightning II.
The F-35 is a supersonic, multi-role, 5th generation stealth fighter designed to replace a wide range of existing aircraft, including AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and United Kingdom Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers.
Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.
Two separate, interchangeable F-35 engines are under development: the Pratt & Whitney F135 and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team F136.
Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin reported 2007 sales of $41.9 billion.