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The F-35A Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters can take to the skies with the Military Flight Release issued last February 28. The multi-million jet fighters has been stuck with test flights until the US Air Force Aeronautical System Center issued MFR. Now, the F-35A JSF can perform initial operations at the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Previously, all F-35A flights were limited to the test flights done by a select number of qualified test pilots at the Edwards Air Base in California and Naval Air Station Patuxent River flight test centers. Units of F-35A started arriving at the Eglin AFB in the summer of 2011, but stayed grounded while waiting for the MFR. Qualified Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps pilots can now fly the jet fighters starting with the Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) F-35A variant. Before the MFR clearance, these pilots can only perform taxi test and simulator flights, but could not fly the F-35A to the skies.
An airworthiness board assessed and evaluated the potential risks and corresponding remedial action for unmonitored flights of the F-3A, before issuing the MFR. The Air Force looks forward to finally see the F-35A Lightning II in the air. This will increase the pilots and maintenance staff familiarity with the aircraft, exercising the logistics infrastructure as well as develop the continued maturity of the aircraft.
“The Air Force, Joint Strike Fighter Program Office and other stakeholders have painstakingly followed established risk acceptance and mitigation processes to ensure the F-35A is ready. This is an important step for the F-35A and we are confident the team has diligently balanced the scope of initial operations with system maturity,” said General Donald Hoffman, commander of Air Force Materiel Command, the parent organization of ASC.
The Eglin Air Force Bas has two qualified F-35A test pilots. Air Force Lt. Col. Eric Smith and Marine Maj. Joseph Bachmann will act as the initial trainers for the rest of the pilots at the 33rd Fighter Wing.
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The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was billed to be one of the most high-tech military aircraft. However, it also comes with a hefty price tag, which is something that the budget of the military can hardly afford.
The highly advanced fifth-generational aircraft had been conceived since 1990′s during the post-cold war. The F-35 JFS was envisioned to have evading radar system while having the ability to fly at supersonic speed. It is supposed to serve three branches of the U.S. military namely the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps. Each service also wants its own customized model of the aircraft.
The aircraft was supposed to be built in rush, but production snags and flight-test problems that resulted to years of cost overruns lands the F-35 project to the chopping block of the Pentagon. This issue is vital for South Carolina where the three bases – Lower Richland, Sumter and Beaufort - that was assigned to receive the fighter jets are located. The F-35 will replace the aging aircraft on the bases like the F/A-18 and F-16. When the F-35 arrives in these bases, it will have the most modern aircraft in the service which will guarantee its continued operation and it can generate jobs for the locals. But if the project would not push through, the bases might close down and lead to unemployment.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the F-35 JSF program would not be terminated outright. However, his deputy is less optimistic about the future of the fighter jets.
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U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss has written to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stating the Pentagon should cease additional purchases of the F-18E/F fighter and focus its limited dollars on buying Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters.
Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia outlined his case in letter last Thursday, urging the Defense Secretary to “fully commit to the expeditious fielding” of the F-35 and “forgo procuring additional fourth generation aircraft such as the F-18E/F.”
The non-stealth Boeing F-18 fighter is of “limited to no value in any future threat scenario and will only drain scarce budgetary resources from systems designed to keep us ahead of our adversaries,” said Chambliss, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The Navy and Pentagon last September signed a $5.3 billion contract for an additional 124 F-18s.
Chambliss’ letter is the second in a week from a Republican lawmaker telling the Pentagon to more vigorously defend its No. 1 weapons program at a time of tightening budgets.
Texas Senator John Cornyn wrote Aug. 24 that the Pentagon’s “failure to sufficiently defend” the $382 billion program is leading to calls in Congress to curtail it.
Chicago-based Boeing monitors the F-35’s progress and can supply more F-18 Super Hornets or F-15 Strike Eagles if needed, Dennis Muilenburg, head of Boeing’s defense unit, said in an interview last December.
“We know our customers have significant challenges right now on how they fit the capability they need into a limited budget,” Muilenburg said. “If there’s a desire to increase the size of the Super Hornet fleet, we are well prepared and equipped to do that.”
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The entire fleet of 20 F-35s have been grounded following the failure of the integrated power package (IPP) on AF-4 at Edwards Air Force Base on Tuesday. The Joint Programme Office (JPO) investigates the cause of a failure in the aircraft’s electrical system during ground tests.
According to a statement from JPO, the failure occurred on an F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) test aircraft, numbered AF-4, but the precautionary grounding applies to all 20 F-35s that had reached flying status.
“Once the facts are understood, a determination will be made when to lift the suspension and begin ground and flight operations,” the JPO said.
In this case, the Honeywell-built integrated power package (IPP) failed during a standard engine test following a maintenance check at 08:30 on 2 August, the JPO said.
The IPP is primarily used as both a starter for the engine and a back-up electrical system, supporting the two main generators. In March, the IPP proved its worth by activating after both generators shut-down with the AF-4 still in flight. The power generated by the IPP allowed the flight control system to keep operating until the pilot landed.
The incident marks the third grounding order for the F-35 fleet since last October, and the second in five months involving the AF-4 test aircraft.
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The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office deputy director expressed confidence in the progress of the JSF program at an Air Force Association breakfast program last week. The upgrades and acquisitions, particularly the completion of the new Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., training facility, helps to advance the fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II program, said Maj. Gen. C.D. Moore.
“The F-35 is at the nexus of concurrency where we are building production aircraft, conducting developmental tests, and starting to build a cadre of future Joint Strike Fighter maintainers and pilots,” Moore said.
Moore described plans for Pilot Training Center-1, a future facility where the services and their international partners will be able to train and interact. The location of the center has not been determined.
The general reported that F-35 flight science testing is making good progress at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., and Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The program is building mission avionics confidence with Block 1 software. Also, AF-6 and AF-7 conventional takeoff and landing aircraft are completing maturity flights to strengthen and verify the training syllabus that will be used at Eglin AFB.
Building momentum and maintaining affordability will ensure the JSF program’s longevity into 2035 and beyond, he said.
The Joint Strike Fighter Program Office is the Department of Defense’s agency responsible for developing and acquiring the F-35A/B/C, the next generation strike aircraft weapon systems for the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and many allied nations.
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Lockheed Martin will try and sell the F-16 aircraft to the Czech Republic when the current lease for Gripen fighters expire in 2015.
The Defence Ministry asked France, the United States, Sweden and the Eurofighter consortium in December for a preliminary bid of supersonic fighters for the Czech military. Lockheed is the second arms maker to publicly announce its interest in the tender, after the Swedish Saab that would like the Czech Republic to keep Gripens, Ekonom.cz writes.
The server wrote that the concern would probably again offer F-16s that are used, for instance, in the neighbouring Poland, in Belgium and Denmark. However, they would probably not succeed in the tender.
“If we sought a new quality, we would definitely not speak about F-16,” the server quotes Czech fighter wing commander Jaroslav Mika as saying recently.
Lockheed might also offer its new stealth aircraft F-35.But they are still being developed and on top of that, they would be too expensive for the Czech Republic, the server writes.
Five companies bid for the order in 1999 preliminarily: U.S. McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing (F/A-18 plane) and Lockheed Martin (F-16), French Dassault Aviation (Mirage 2000-5), EADS (Eurofighter) consortium and the British-Swedish BAE Systems/Saab consortium (Jas-39 Gripen).
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The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is becoming a popular subject on Twitter, thanks in part to a tweet from Sen. John McCain.
“Congress notified that first F-35 jets have cost overruns of $771M. Outrageous! Pentagon asking for $264M down payment now. Disgraceful”, says a post of Sen. McCain sounded on Tuesday.
Manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. took to Twitter Wednesday in defense of the program. “The F-35 team is focused on reducing costs of the jets and is showing significant improvement in key areas,” the company said in a post Wednesday afternoon. The tweet included a link to recent Senate testimony by Tom Burbage, Lockheed’s F-35 program manager.
In reply, Sen. McCain wrote: “To most observers, a $771M cost overrun for 28 F-35s doesn’t qualify as ‘significant improvement.’ Taxpayers deserve better.”
A defense official said Congress was informed about the request to shift funds to cover F-35 cost overruns back in May. Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein said cost increases on early production models were due in part to design changes that had to be incorporated after early testing of the aircraft.
This, incidentally, isn’t the first time the F-35 has come under fire from Sen. McCain. In a May hearing, the senator complained about the “jaw-dropping” price tag for sustaining the fleet of stealthy aircraft over several decades.The company is currently in negotiations with the government over the price for a batch of 35 of the airplanes.
Source: The Wall Street Journal
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Seven airmen from the Air Force’s 33rd Fighter Wing are at Naval Air Station Patuxent River for 75 days to gain first-hand experience maintaining the F-35B and F-35C variants, while those aircraft continue flight test and evaluation. They are the second group from the Wing to visit the F-35 test facility at Pax River.
Lockheed Martin is scheduled to deliver the F-35A aircraft AF-8 to Eglin Air Force Base in Florida and the first joint training squadron later this year.
“It is beneficial working around the F-35B and F35-C variants,” said Master Sgt. Timothy Weaver, crew chief, and member of the 33rd Fighter Wing. “With this being a joint program, we learn a lot about how each branch handles maintenance. We are learning how the Marines operate, how the Navy operates, and sharing how we operate.”
“The C and A variants have a lot of the same systems, but some of the parts are in different locations,” said Weaver. He serves as the lead Air Force maintainer and production supervisor over the day-to-day activities on a flight line. He was also instrumental in the stand-up of the training wing at Eglin.
Eager to know what to expect before AF-8 arrives at Eglin, the maintainers volunteered for this assignment.
Tech. Sgt. Miguel Aguirre, armament specialist, and a quality assurance specialist, is here to gain knowledge of how the Lockheed Martin team performs maintenance. He will be responsible for overseeing the contractor-performed maintenance for AF-8 at Eglin. While there are no weapons being tested yet, Aguirre is the only armament specialist in the Air Force to work directly on the F-35.
“We are the eyes and ears for the group,” said Aguirre. And from what he has seen so far, “from a maintenance perspective, the JSF is user-friendly.”
“Procedures require that we start small,” said Tech. Sgt. Lucas Delk, crew chief, who performs similar duties to the Navy’s plane captain. “It is real exciting to see the F-35, and get hands-on experience.”
Delk noted minor differences between the Air Force and Navy’s carrier variants, but said “the meat and the potatoes are the same.”
Weaver’s team looks for any opportunity to get their hands dirty, and when they cannot, they are watching and gaining knowledge. “There is always work going on,” he said.
The AF-8 test asset is currently in Fort Worth, Texas, undergoing airworthiness testing prior to transfer to Eglin. The F-35A conventional take-off and landing model is undergoing testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Source: U.S. Navy
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An Israel newspaper reported Monday that the country may get its F-35 warplanes, seen as a bulwark against arch-enemy Iran, from the United States only in 2018 due to production delays. But the Haaretz daily said Israel is unlikely to buy jets from a rival American manufacturer as a stop-gap.
Israel bought around 20 of the radar-evading Lockheed Martin Corp F-35s, along with ancillary equipment, for $2.75 billion last year, saying delivery would start in 2016 or 2017. Scheduling and budget glitches may have postponed that by a year, Haaretz said. It quoted Ehud Shani, director-general of Israel’s Defence Ministry, as playing down the hold-up.
“I am not nervous about it,” Shani said, adding that he saw a boon for Israel’s bid to incorporate products from its own electronic warfare, communications and other high-tech systems in the F-35, which is also known as the Joint Strike Fighter.
U.S. officials had generally opposed the proposed changes as overly costly and potentially counter-productive.
“In the original timetable, it was argued that there was no time” to incorporate such systems into the Israeli F-35s, Shani said. “We will hear their conclusions and I expect a dialogue with the Americans over the new timetable and the changes.”
Boeing had lobbied Israel to buy more F-15s but Shani dismissed as “not relevant” the possibility that such jets would stand in for the lagging F-35s.
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A 2,000-page Senate spending bill included $450 million to continue work on a second engine for the Lockheed Martin Corp F35 fighter plane, a program the Pentagon has tried for years to cancel.
The Pentagon wants to save money by canceling the F136 engine being built by General Electric Co. and Britain’s Rolls Royce Group Plc. as an alternate to an engine built by United Technologies Corp. unit Pratt & Whitney.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has repeatedly told lawmakers that he will recommend that President Barack Obama to any measure that funds the second engine program.
His spokesman, Geoff Morrell, said Gates continued to strongly oppose the “extra engine” and would repeat his views about a veto to the president “at the right time.”
The Senate spending bill also includes thousands of projects known as earmarks that have become a symbol of wasteful spending for many voters, which could complicate efforts to ensure continued funding for the federal government before Saturday, when the current spending bill expires.
Republicans, who will take over control of the House of Representatives next year, are strongly opposed to earmarks and the $1.1 trillion measure will not be able to pass the Senate without at least some Republican support.
A spending bill passed by the House of Representatives last week did not include earmarks, but the second F-35 engine has strong support in the House.
The Senate bill included $102.7 billion in procurement funding, but it cut the proposed purchase of F-35 fighters by seven planes to 35.