Lockheed Martin says it is preparing to dramatically increase flight testing of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter this year, with plans including the first firing of live weapons.
In a progress report released today, Lockheed said the F-35 had conducted 114 flight tests for the year through to February 20, with plans for at least 1001 test flights during 2012 and further increases in subsequent years. Since the start of flight testing in 2006, F-35s have flown a total of 1704 times, Lockheed said.
Preparations for live firing are already underway, with test aircraft flying with external wing-mounted weapons in recent days as other aircraft begin “pit testing” of weapons by firing while parked on the ground.
Though the F-35 has been plagued by delays and cost overruns, Lockheed said the test program has reached a number of milestones this year, including first night flight and delivery of the first two production models of the F-35B STOVL variant to the US Marine Corps on January 11.
In other F-35 news, Turkey’s defence minister said on Thursday that the country will buy 100 of the fighters for an estimated US$16 billion and expects to receive the first two aircraft by 2015.
A JSF program partner country, Turkey has long planned to purchase the jets to replace ageing F-4 and F-16 fighters, but rising costs have raised questions about the program in a number of countries, and the comments on Thursday were the first indication from Ankara of how much it expects the purchase to cost.
Interestingly, Australia’s own total buy of 100 F-35s has been budgetted to cost A$16 billion.