The U.S. Air Force has accepted into its fleet the first of a planned 1,763 production-model F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters. The signing of formal acceptance documents for the jet, known as AF-7, took place at Lockheed Martin’s F-35 final-assembly plant on Thursday.
The jet flew to Edwards Air Force Base, California, arriving on Friday to begin its flight testing programme, Lockheed Martin has announced.
“This first aircraft is the beginning of the modernization of US Air Force, Marine and Naval Air power and for our collation partners around the world,” said Larry Lawson, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and F-35 program general manager. “The F-35 family of aircraft will bring an incredible increase in capability that our men and women defending us deserve. Today we begin to fulfil the vision of our government and international customers.”
F-35s have completed more than 865 flights since flight-testing began in late 2006. In addition to AF-7, eight more production-model F-35s have rolled out and are being prepared for delivery.
Three variants of the F-35 will replace the A-10 and F-16 for the U.S. Air Force, the F/A-18 for the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18 and AV-B Harrier for the U.S. Marine Corps, and a variety of fighters for at least nine other countries.
Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.
Another positive development came on Monday when the Full House Armed Services committee released its mark-up of the FY 2012 defence budget, making provision for the General Electric/Rolls Royce alternative F136 engine, which the Pentagon has been trying to cancel for years in an effort to save money on the over budget F-35 programme. Last week the two companies said they would self fund the F136 engine, which is 80% developed.
The Full House Armed Services committee’s Monday mark up includes Section 252, which blocks the Pentagon from spending any money for “activities related to destroying or disposing” any “property owned by the federal government that was acquired under the F136 propulsion system development contract.” The proposed budget also reinstates the F136 program, without funding, allowing the General Electric/Rolls Royce team to use existing engines, test facilities, etc.