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Current Conflicts: F-35 Lightning II

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Current Conflicts: F-35 Lightning II

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter goes wheels up for the first time Dec. 15, 2006 at Fort Worth, Texas.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force
Current Conflicts: F-35 Lightning II

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter's initial flight took place Dec. 15, 2006, over Fort Worth, Texas.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force
Current Conflicts: F-35 Lightning II

A F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter takes off at 12:44 p.m. CST at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas Dec. 15, 2006, for an initial flight as part of system development testing.

Photograph Courtesy of the US Air Force

F-35 Lightning II - Overview:

  • Length: 50 ft. 6 in.
  • Wingspan: 35 ft.
  • Height: 17 ft. 4 in.
  • Wing Area: 459 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 26,000 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 44,400 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance:

  • Power Plant: 1× Pratt & Whitney F135 afterburning turbofan or 1× General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136 afterburning turbofan
  • Range: F-35A: 1,200 nmi, F-35B: 900 nmi, F-35C: 1400 nmi
  • Max Speed: Mach 1.6+ (1,200 mph)
  • Rate of Climb: Classified

Armament:

  • 1 × GAU-12/U 25 mm cannon — F-35A mounted internally with 180 rounds, F-35B/C mounted as an external pod with 220 rounds
  • Internally: 4 x AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9X Sidewinder, or AIM-132 ASRAAM OR 2 x 2,000 lbs. air-to-ground munitions (2 x 1,000 lbs. in F-35B)OR Joint Standoff Weapon OR 4 x Brimstone anti-armor missile, cluster munitions, or HARM missiles.
  • Externally: The aircraft is equipped with four wing and two wingtip pylons. The use of these increases the aircraft's radar signature. On the wingtips, the aircraft can only mount AIM-9 Sidewinders. A variety of munitions may be used on the wing pylons.

F-35 Lightning II Development:

The F-35 Lightning II was developed as a result of the Joint Strike Fighter Program. Begun in the mid-1990s, the JSF program was designed to produce a new multi-role aircraft that would be capable of replacing several aircraft currently in use. In 1995, the United Kingdom joined the project and began to contribute towards the aircraft's development costs. All prospective designs were required to be capable of conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL), carrier takeoff and landing (CV variant), and short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL).

On November 16, 1996, contracts to develop prototypes were granted to Lockheed Martin and Boeing. A bid from McDonnell-Douglas was rejected due to the complexity of their proposed design. Moving forward, Lockheed Martin and Boeing each constructed prototypes of their designs, the X-35 and X-32. During the JSF flight testing competition, the X-35 consistently bettered the X-32, with the coupe de grace coming when the X-35B (STOVL variant) took off in less than 500 ft., accelerated to supersonic speed, then landed vertically. Boeing's X-32 was unable to accomplish this feat.

F-35 Lightning II Design & Production:

On October 26, 2001, the Department of Defense awarded the contract for system development and demonstration to Lockheed Martin. A key reason for this was the X-35B's method for achieving STOVL flight which utilizes a lift fan system rather than the vector thrust system used by other similar aircraft such as the AV-8. In appearance, the F-35 is evocative of the F-22 Raptor, also built by Lockheed Martin, and incorporates stealth technology into its design. The aircraft also includes high-speed networking, cockpit-speech recognition, and helmet-mounted displays in place of the traditional heads-up display.

To improve the pilot's situational awareness, the F-35 incorporates integrated avionics and sensors capable of relaying data from other air and ground sources. The heart of the aircraft's sensors will be the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 AESA-radar, augmented by the Lockheed Martin/BAE Systems Electro-Optical Targeting System. As the primary contactor, Lockheed Martin will oversee the final assembly and systems integration of the aircraft. For those aircraft sold to European (non-UK) nations, final assembly will be conducted by the Italian firm Alenia. The aircraft was named in honor of the famed P-38 Lightning.

F-35 Lightning II Variants:

The F-35 will be produced in three variants:

  • F-35A: The conventional takeoff/landing version of the aircraft, the F-35A will largely be employed by air forces. Highly maneuverable and possessing a large weapons capacity, the F-35A will replace both the F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt in the US Air Force inventory. The F-35A is the only variant to incorporate an internal gun. The F-35A should enter service in 2011.
  • F-35B: The STVOL version of the aircraft, the F-35B incorporates a Rolls-Royce Lift Fan module and a vectoring cruise nozzle which permits the aircraft to achieve vertical flight. As a result of the STVOL equipment, the F-35B possesses the smallest internal weapons capacity of the three variants. It is intended to replace the US Marine Corps' AV-8B Harrier II and the British Harrier GR7/GR9. This variant is scheduled to enter service in 2012.
  • F-35C: Designed for the US Navy, the F-35C is the carrier variant of the aircraft. Possessing larger folding wings and reinforced landing gear, the aircraft is capable of a longer range than the F-35A and F-35B. The US Navy plans to use the aircraft to replace the F/A-18/A/B/C/D Hornet and as a complement to the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The F-35C should enter service in 2012.

F-35 Lightning II - International Cooperation:

The development of the F-35 JSF was a multi-national effort which incorporated nine different international partners at different levels. Combined these partners anticipate purchasing 3,100 F-35s, making it one of the world's most numerous fighter aircraft. Spearheaded by the United States, the project's second largest partner was the United Kingdom which contributed over $2.5 billion (10% of development costs) to the project. Level 2 partners include Italy and the Netherlands who have contributed $1 billion and $800 million respectively. Third tier partners are Canada ($440 million), Turkey ($175 million), Australia ($144 million), Norway ($122 million), and Denmark ($110 million). While the project has largely gone smoothly, there have been issues regarding technology transfer and industrial share.

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