F-35C development aircraft CF-3 made the type’s first catapult launch on July 27, with the aircraft launched into the air from a test steam catapult at Lakehurst, New Jersey.
The catapult launch is a key milestone in the carrier variant (CV)’s flight test program before it undergoes intial ship trials in 2013.
US Navy test pilot Lt Chris Tabert was at the controls of CF-3, which is the designated carrier suitability test aircraft, for the catapult launch (which can be viewed on YouTube here).
Interestingly, Tabert is the most junior test pilot to fly the F-35 to date, “which reflects a deliberate shaping of the test force which balances experienced military and contractor test pilots with more newly-qualified test pilots with more recent experience,” according to the US Navy.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin has provided an update on F-35 flight test activities for the year through to July 25, saying the program has flown 518 flights, ahead of the scheduled 476 planned, in 2011.
Through to July 25, this year F-35A CTOL jets had flown 250 times, F-35B CTOL jets 187 times, and F-35C CV jets 81 times. F-35A AF-3 completed the program’s 500th SDD flight on July 21, while overall, since the first F-35 flight test aircraft (AA-1) first flew in 2006, F-35s have completed 1065 flights.