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F-35 Drops Bombs from Wings for First Time

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has dropped bombs from its wings for the first time, the program office announced Friday.

An F-35C carrier-based version of the Lockheed Martin Corp.-made aircraft released four 500-pound GBU-12 laser-guided bombs, all inert, from its wings' pylons during recent tests near Naval Air Station Patuxent River, according to a statement from Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the program office.

"All four weapon separations were successful and confirmed the accuracy of the predicted release trajectory," he said. "The ability to do quadruple separation tests during a single flight demonstrates the program's ability to efficiently test, and advances the F-35's future capability to release multiple weapons on a single pass."

Unlike traditional flight test programs, the F-35's weapons certification process relies on extensive wind-tunnel testing and computer analysis to predict the trajectory, as well as on-board instrumentation that delivers real-time data to engineers in the control room, according to the statement.

"Each weapon separation matched simulation models with a high degree of fidelity, which expedites the clearances of future weapons and employment envelopes," it stated.

In coming weeks, the program office will land a pair of F-35Cs aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) to begin a second set of sea trials for the naval variant, according to the statement.

The testing milestone came the same week news reports surfaced that lightweight pilots had to be temporarily grounded from flying the aircraft due to potential greater injury risk associated with the F-35's ejection seat. As Lara Seligman and Aaron Mehta reported in Defense News:

"Concerns about increased risk of injury to F-35 pilots during low-speed ejections have prompted the US military services to temporarily restrict pilots who weigh less than 136 pounds from flying the aircraft, Defense News has learned.

During August tests of the ejection seat, built by Martin-Baker, testers discovered an increased risk of neck injury when a lightweight pilot is flying at slower speeds. Until the problem is fixed, the services decided to restrict pilots weighing under 136 pounds from operating the plane, Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, F-35 integration office director, told Defense News in a Tuesday interview."

The milestone also came the same week the U.S. House of Representatives passed the annual defense authorization bill, which supports the Pentagon's request to buy 57 F-35s in fiscal 2016 at a cost of $11 billion. The legislation would also provide additional funding to buy six more F-35B jump-jet variants for the Marine Corps at a cost of $846 million.

The bill also recommends for the program "targeted adjustments based on contract savings and program oversight concerns," according to a fact-sheet from the House Armed Services Committee.

For example, the legislation would trim $100 million from the Air Force's request for F-35A funding until Defense Secretary Ashton Carter certifies to the congressional defense committees that "F-35A aircraft delivered in fiscal year 2018 will have full combat capability with currently planned Block 3F hardware, software, and weapons carriage," according to a copy of the text.

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