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STOVL JSF Jumps Closer to Flight Test

f35b-engine.jpg

Our boy Steve Trimble posted a piece this morning on a series of hover pit tests conducted by Lockheed Martin with it's F-35B prototype -- they're calling it the BF-1.

Hover pit tests completed two days ago moved the first short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) variant of the Lockheed Martin F-35 within days or weeks of its first flight.

A Lockheed spokesman confirms the propulsion system for the STOVL demonstrator named BF-1 completed a series of conversions from conventional mode to vertical landing mode.

The tests were conducted at Lockheeds hover pit, where the aircraft is tethered to the ground on top of a steel grate. The pit allows Lockheeds engineers to measure vertical thrust generated by the engine.

The hover pit is the last major stop before the first flight event for BF-1, which has been scheduled for late May or early June.

Despite the need to complete hover pit tests before first flight, the lift-fan that helps power the aircraft during STOVL mode will not be engaged in a flight test for several more months. BF-1 will fly in conventional mode throughout the first flight.

This is pretty exciting because to most observers, this is the most endangered model of the F-35 (though some could argue each has its own equal level of program risk based largely on available funds in each of the services).

But in terms of technical risk, the STOVL JSF clearly has a lot to prove. The lift fan concept is an intriguing one, and if it works, could prove far less risky for the kinds of expeditionary operations its "B" model customers intend for it.

Getting the aircraft airborne has wider implications for Lockheed. The US Department of Defense has linked the release of production funding for the first batch of six F-35B low rate initial production (LRIP) aircraft to completing the first flight event.

In addition, BF-1 is the first weight-optimized airframe produced after Lockheed re-designed all three variants in 2005 to reduce or offset weight by as much as 2,268kg (5,000lbs).

The F-35B, on order by the US Marine Corps, the UK Royal Air Force and UK Royal Navy, is the first western aircraft to combine supersonic speed with the STOVL capability.

I've had the good fortune to have observed this program from its initial stages back when it was Boeing vs Lockheed in the concept demonstrator phase. I saw the LM version in the hover pits at its Skunkworks facility out in Cali back then and have been eagerly awaiting the real thing for a long time.

The Marines are gonna be psyched when this thing gets into production since clearly the AV-8B is more than ready for retirement.(Gouge: NC)-- Christian

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