The F-35 JSF program met many of its flight test goals in 2010 but also missed a few key targets at the same time.
The year was capped off with an eleventh hour first flight of the fourth CTOL F-35A development aircraft, AF-4, from Forth Worth on December 30, making a total of nine development aircraft now flying comprising the four CTOL jets, four F-35B STOVLs, and a single F-35C CV carrier variant.
In total, the program completed 410 test flights in 2010, more than the planned 394. The F-35A fleet based at Edwards AFB exceeded its planned flights and more importantly, the number of test points by a healthy 50 per cent, while the lone F-35C based at NAS Patuxent River completed 125 per cent of its planned test points.
But it is in the F-35B STOVL test fleet where the program came up short, with the four aircraft falling 18 per cent behind the planned test points schedule, mainly due to some engineering and reliability issues which kept the fleet grounded at their Patuxent River base at various times during the year. Further, only one of the F-35Bs, BF-1, has completed just 10 vertical landings since last March, and these were suspended in September after airflow problems with the auxiliary inlet doors were found. Plans had called for 43 vertical landings to be done before shipborne trials aboard the USS Wasp could commence in March 2011, and with vertical landings planned to restart in January, the Wasp trials have now been rescheduled for August or September.
In its program schedule released in late 2009, the JSF Program Office had also hoped to have all 12 development aircraft flying by the end of 2010, but three are yet to fly and remain in extended post production preflight work periods at Fort Worth.
The Pentagon is expected to announce a program schedule adjustment in February as part of the US FY12 Defence budget process.
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