WASHINGTON Feb 24 Lockheed Martin Corp's
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will start "ski-jump testing"
at a Maryland air base this week, while another B-model jet
wraps up six months of tests at temperatures as low as minus 40
degrees Fahrenheit (minus 40 Celsius) to as high as 120 F (49
Two UK pilots will test the ability of the new warplane to
take off from upward-sloping ski-jump ramps used on aircraft
carriers like those operated by Britain and Italy. The ramps
launch the jets forward and upward, reducing the thrust needed.
Sylvia Pierson, spokeswoman for the Pentagon's F-35 program
office, said two British pilots, one from BAE Systems Plc
and the other from the British Royal Navy, would use
the first UK F-35B jet to complete the testing through late May.
The F-35 is also finishing six months of tests at the
McKinley Climatic Laboratory in Florida, another key milestone
before the U.S. Marine Corps declares the jet ready for initial
combat use in July.
After 14 years of development, early cost overruns and
schedule delays, the $400 billion F-35 fighter jet program is
becoming an operational reality for the U.S. military. Over 120
jets are flying at nine U.S. bases.
Richard Aboulafia, analyst with the Teal Group, said the
program has stabilized but it is unclear whether the Air Force
will stick to plans to buy 1,763 F-35 A-models through 2037 even
as it ramps up work on a new bomber and a "sixth generation"
The F-35 climate testing has been closely watched by the
U.S. military and nine other countries that have placed orders:
Britain, Italy, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Japan, South Korea,
the Netherlands and Israel.
Pilots, technicians and F-35 program officials have tested
the jet's performance in heat, driving rain, hurricane-force
winds, snow, sleet and other extreme conditions.
Industry and government officials say the testing has gone
better than expected, although final assessments will wait until
after the testing is concluded next month.
Billie Flynn, a former Canadian Air Force pilot who tested
the F-16 fighter 23 years ago in the same climate chamber, said
he expected the F-35 to face some issues since it is so much
more complex and software-driven.
But Flynn, now a Lockheed F-35 test pilot, said the jet
surpassed his expectations. "This just gives us so much more
confidence about when and where we operate the jets."
F-35 program officials and enginemaker Pratt & Whitney, a
unit of United Technologies Corp, said oil in the engine
became too thick at very cold temperatures, but the problem had
been resolved by switching to a thinner oil used by the Air
They said it was unclear if the issue would require a minor
modification to an external component of the engine.
(Editing by Matthew Lewis)