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F-35A becomes 2nd variant to fly with mission systems


The Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter known as AF-3 takes off Tuesday evening, July 6, on its first flight. AF-3 is the second F-35 to carry mission systems aloft, and the first conventional takeoff and landing variant so equipped. A Lockheed Martin photo.

FORT WORTH, TEXAS (BNS): The ninth Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter entered flight testing on Tuesday, becoming the second test jet to fly with the next-generation avionics package that will populate all operational F-35s.

The F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, known as AF-3, flew for 42 minutes during its first flight, a company statement said.

F-35 Test Pilot Bill Gigliotti took off at 6:20 p.m. and initiated a series of flying-qualities tests in a flight focused on propulsion and vehicle systems operation. Some mission systems data were collected before the flight was curtailed by storms in the area.

“AF-3 is very much like the first production F-35s we will deliver to the US Air Force later this year,” said Doug Pearson, Lockheed Martin vice president of F-35 Test and Verification.

“AF-3 will be the workhorse for demonstrating the lethal 5th generation combat mission systems capability that will reside in all F-35s,” he said.

The F-35’s avionics, or mission systems, are the most comprehensive and powerful ever to fly in a fighter, according to Lockheed.

The Lightning II gathers processes and applies data from a wide array of on-board and off-board sensors, enabling the jet to perform command-and-control functions while providing unprecedented situational awareness to the pilot, other air assets and surface forces.

Three F-35 variants are under development – the F-35A CTOL variant to replace US Air Force F-16s and A-10s, as well as aircraft employed by seven allied nations; the F-35B STOVL variant to replace US Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers and F/A-18s, UK Royal Air Force and Royal Navy Harrier GR.7s, GR.9s and Sea Harriers, and Italian Harriers; and the F-35C carrier variant to replace US Navy F/A-18s.

The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations, advanced sustainment, and lower operational and support costs.

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