A new chapter in the history of U.S. Air Force fighters began yesterday when the service's fist production model F-35 Joint Strike Fighter took to the skies at Lockheed's Fort Worth, TX., facility for the very first time.
Yes, the program's had its troubles and the Marines' B-model is nowhere near ready for production but this marks the beginning of the program becoming an operational reality. This flight paves the way for Air Force instructor pilots to start flying the jets at Eglin Air Force Base, in Florida starting this May. This means, believe or not, we're finally going to see operational F-35s. Still, it's gonna be a while. The IOC date for the Air Force remains 2016.
From a Lockheed announcement of the flight:
The first production model of the Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] F-35 Lightning II made its inaugural flight today in preparation for delivery to the U.S. Air Force this spring. The jet will head to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., to support developmental testing shortly after the Air Force takes delivery.
“The aircraft was rock-solid from takeoff to landing, and successfully completed all the tests we put it through during the flight,” said Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Bill Gigliotti. “The Air Force is getting a great jet that represents a huge leap in capability, and we’re looking forward to getting it into the hands of the service pilots in just a few more weeks.”
During the flight, the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A variant, known as AF-6, underwent basic flight maneuvering and engine tests. Test Pilot Gigliotti took off from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base at 3:05 p.m. CST and landed at 4:05 p.m. The jet will continue flight tests in Fort Worth for about a month before it is accepted by the Air Force.