F-35B Finally Back On Track… And Could Be Ready For Sea Trials This Fall

F-35B Flight Testing

Update: F-35C is also surpassing expectations Link

So it seems, finally, the F-35B is no longer behind schedule in its flight testing. In fact, the Joint Strike Fighter has achieved more since January than people would have thought possible only several months ago.

In a statement to DefenceTech.org, Brigadier General Gary Thomas, the USMC Assistant Deputy Commandant for Aviation has said that  the plane is at “about 200 percent of our planned test points today”. He went further to say that the F-35B had performed seven times more vertical landings since January than it had done all of last year.

The programme has been plagued with issues and delays, starting with structural weaknesses were affecting the aircraft’s performance and then some serious mechanical problems with the F-35B’s innovative lift fan doors.  A lot of international attention was drawn to disagreements between the US Defence Secretary and UK government over sharing the source code that governs the avionics in the new Panoramic Cockpit Display and finally, a report released by the US Government Accountability Office last month put the projected cost as $385 billion, almost $170 billion over budget from its start. All this, led Defence Secretary Robert Gates to putting the B-model fighter on a “two-year probation’ and warning closure if results weren’t quickly produced.

But, back from the brink, the programme is on target to begin seaborne trials this fall. This is very good news for the Pentagon, and perhaps even more so for the UK, who are already looking for a quick replacement to the already mothballed Harrier Gr.9. With the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier that has a planned launch in 2020 – the prospect of a carrier with no operational fixed wing aircraft obviously could cause some concern.

The USMC are looking at the F-35B as a replacement for their AV-8B Harriers, F/A-18s and EA-6B Super Prowlers. In terms of performance, it has so far proved very similar  to the F/A-18, however the new technology developments and low radar cross section makes it a huge improvement in any Carrier Strike Package.


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