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F-35 Undergoes Cold-Weather Testing in Alaska

Maj. Jonathan “Spades” Gilber, U.S. Air Force F-35 test pilot, demonstrates the handling qualities of Lockheed Martin’s (NYSE: LMT) F-35 Lightning II during icy runway ground testing at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. (Photo: Darin Russell, Lockheed Martin)
Maj. Jonathan “Spades” Gilber, U.S. Air Force F-35 test pilot, demonstrates the handling qualities of Lockheed Martin’s (NYSE: LMT) F-35 Lightning II during icy runway ground testing at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. (Photo: Darin Russell, Lockheed Martin)

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is undergoing some more extreme weather testing before additional jets fly across the pond for permanent stationing in Norway.

The A model has and will continue to be tested on icy runways at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, in order to pass its drag chute certification -- a requirement for Norway's version of the jets, Lockheed Martin said in a release on Monday.

Although Norway already has a handful of F-35s, it welcomed its first three F-35As to Ørland Air Base for permanent basing earlier this month.

"This initial testing is the first of two phases to ensure the F-35A can operate in these extreme conditions," officials said in the release. Lockheed has been working with the Netherlands on the drag capabilities for their jets, initially tested at Edwards Air Force Base, California, earlier this year.

"These tests are done with the aircraft in motion rolling over a prepared icy runway surface at a wide range of speeds," Michael Friedman, a Lockheed F-35 spokesman, told Military.com on Monday.

The second phase of the drag chute-ice testing -- which will focus on how the chute performs during landing -- is planned in early 2018, Friedman said.

"The icy runway tests being conducted now at Eielson AFB are to determine the handling characteristics, braking and deceleration performance on slippery landing surfaces with and without deployment of the drag chute.

Officials at Lockheed did not clarify how much the latest extreme weather testing for the partner aircraft costs before press time.

Previous harsh weather testing

While the drag-chute is an anomaly for the F-35 -- with only Norway and the Netherlands expressing interest in the ability to stop on ice given geographical location -- the stealth aircraft has been through extreme weather testing before.

Throughout history, one of the worst issues affecting aircraft, weapons or equipment has been cold weather, lab chief Dwayne Bell told Military.com during a visit to the McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Military.com toured the facility last year during a stateside trip with then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Following lessons learned during World War I, "In the 1930s roughly, Congress got in the middle of it, and told the military 'We want you to do cold weather testing'," Bell said. As a result, the military began sending equipment out to Ladd Army Airfield near Fairbanks, Alaska.

Testing slowed since weather was unpredictable, Bell said. "It's hard chasing weather," he said.

Lt. Col. Ashley McKinley, a former pilot stationed at Ladd noticed the inefficiencies to test the equipment quickly based on conditions. But only decades later following World War II was a temperature controlled facility built and up-and-running in his honor.

On the cold side, the refrigeration chamber within the lab can fall as low as -70 degrees.

Bell at the time said the F-35 program has been the one of the most expensive programs tested in the lab to date. There's a very wide range of what testing costs, but prices estimate to roughly $25,000 a day, he said.

It was roughly $7 million to test the B model from the Patuxent River Integrated Test Force, Maryland, over a six month period, Bell said.

The Lightning II was put through major weather -- the lab can do everything but lightning strikes and tornadoes -- such as wind, solar radiation, fog, humidity, rain intrusion/ingestion, freezing rain, icing cloud, icing build-up, vortex icing and snow, said Friedman.

It handled temperatures ranging from 120 degrees Fahrenheit to -40 degrees.

Additionally, because of its vertical lift capabilities the Marine Corp's F-35 was the difficult to test, Bell said.

By comparison, the climatic testing for the F-22 Raptor cost somewhere between $6 and $10 million, according to spokeswoman Laura McGowan from Air Force Materiel Command.

The Raptor first received extreme weather testing from May to August 2002 and then had follow-on testing between March and April 2007, McGowan, of the 88th Air Base Wing, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said in an email earlier this year.

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