When Will the F-35 Return to Flight?

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Following an enforced six-month lay-off, Lockheed Martin is "champing at the bit" to get the F-35 Lightning II back into the air, an ambition it is aiming to fulfil this week.

As of the end of last month company officials were targeting Dec. 4 to restart flight trials of AA-1, an F-35A. The aircraft has been on the ground since May, initially as a result of an electrical problem, and latterly with engine issues.

The planned return of the AA-1 to the flight test program will be quickly followed by flight tests of company's Boeing 737 systems testbed-aircraft, the Cooperative Avionics Testbed (CATBird). The CATBird was slated to fly as early as Dec. 5. The aircraft will eventually be fitted with a complete F-35 sensor suite.

Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin vice-president and F-35 general manager, says the circuitry responsible for the electrical problem has been redesigned. This delay, however, was compounded by a "manufacturing defect in an engine blade" resulting in the need for checks to the Pratt & Whitney F-135 engine.

Aircraft AA-1 had been flown on 19 test-flights when the electrical issue was encountered, May 3. A successful return to flight this week would see the aircraft go on to be flown from Forth Worth through March 2008, when it would be transferred to Edwards AFB, Calif. for a series of trials lasting around a month.

The initial AA-1 flights will be used to examine whether the electrical arcing issue at high-altitude has been satisfactorily dealt with. The aircraft will be flown at various flight levels up to 40,000 feet to ensure the anomaly does not recur.

Read more from Aviation Week about the F-35's return to flight at Military.com.

-- Christian

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