The Marine Corps' F-35B Lightning II test jets have completed all the vertical landings they needed to satisfy officials about going ahead with testing aboard a ship later this year, the Navy announced Wednesday. The fighters have done 80 percent of the short takeoffs they need. (We're waiting on the exact numbers of landings and takeoffs.) Naval Air Systems Command said the body of tests that its F-35Bs have passed shows that they'll perform as advertised at sea and then eventually when they join the operational fleet.
“Individually, these are great milestones for the aircraft and their crews, but when you put them all together with the experience we have on [test aircraft] BF-1 and BF-2, we’re proving that STOVL flight in the F-35B is really maturing,” Lockheed test pilot David “Doc” Nelson said in a NavAir announcement.
Currently there are four F-35B test aircraft at NAS Patuxent River, and all four have now flown in STOVL mode with airborne conversions between STOVL and conventional take-off and landing (CTOL), slow take offs, slow landings, and vertical landings, a significant sign of maturity as only test aircraft BF-1 is primarily tasked for STOVL flight envelope expansion.The Bs are set to begin flying aboard the amphibious assault ship Wasp later this year, and everyone in the Corporation wants that process, from the very first flight, to go as smoothly as possible. The stakes don't get any bigger: The F-35B is on "probation" after problems with its development, and it -- along with its A- and C-model siblings -- is a big potential target for anti-spending factions in Washington. If the B has problems with testing at sea, it could become that much more difficult for the Pentagon to defend. And if the B goes away, with it goes the Marines' ability to fly fast jets off big-deck gators.