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The JSF Finally Flies...

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Our boy Box Cox of the Ft. Worth Star Telegram and his gang of zany JSF watchers caught the plane in the act on Friday...

Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II test airplane finally took off again Friday afternoon for a 55-minute flight, the first since a severe electrical problem forced an emergency landing May 3.

Test flight No. 20 was successful, went according to plan and was trouble free, said Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 program general manager.

"We planned it to go an hour," Crowley said. Test pilot Jon Beesley "had the discretion to go a little more or a little less. He got everything done and finished a little bit early."

It was a key milestone in the development of the next generation stealth combat jet, a program estimated to ultimately cost U.S. taxpayers upward of $300 billion even with financial contributions from eight partner nations. Lockheed Martin and government officials have downplayed the effect of the plane's grounding and the problems that caused it, but the issues and rising costs are being closely watched by potential foreign buyers.

The F-35's wasn't the only milestone flight of the afternoon above Fort Worth. Lockheed later flew the CATBird, the much-modified Boeing 737 that will be a flying laboratory for engineers to test and modify the many electronic surveillance, tracking and weapons-targeting systems that are being developed for the F-35.

"The impact of these two flights on the team morale, having been down so long, was huge," Crowley said.

With a cluster of several dozen onlookers watching nearby, Beesley fired up the F-35's Pratt & Whitney engine and took off about 1:20 p.m. from Naval Air Station Fort Worth, followed moments later by an F-16 chase plane. Both planes quickly gained altitude and turned to the southwest.

After becoming airborne, Beesley ran the engine at various power settings and checked the aircraft's flight characteristics at 6,000, 17,500 and 20,000 feet, and performed a fuel-dump test at 250 knots before returning to base at 2:15 p.m.

"Everything sounds like the plane is ready to fly again right away," Crowley said. The test plane will likely fly several more times before the end of the year as test pilots methodically put the aircraft through various maneuvers and situations to test its performance.

In particular they will be monitoring the electrical-hydraulic controls that operate the aircraft's control surfaces. It was a serious electrical arcing problem in one of the control boxes that caused the emergency on flight No. 19 and led to the plane's grounding while repairs were designed, produced and tested.

The F-35 will be flown in Fort Worth until about March, when plans call for it to be flown to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for testing by the military.

Hopefully they got all the kinks worked out - especially since they keep grounding those confounded F-15s.

(Gouge: NC)

[Photo: "Where's Bob?" from the Ft. Worth Star Telegram]

-- Christian

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