Monday, November 30, 2009

More F-35s to Test?

More F-35s to Test?: "We could learn as early as this week what the Pentagon plans to do in a bid to prevent the F-35 development program going massively over budget and schedule. Acquisition chief Ashton Carter met with program officials over the weekend and the prevailing rumor going in was that the Pentagon would add money and aircraft in Fiscal 2011 to accelerate flight testing and get the program back on track to complete development in 2013.

Remember that two aircraft were removed from the flight-test program two years ago as part of a 'mid-course review' that increased reliance on integration labs and flying testbeds. The mission-system test aircraft were cut to replenish the management reserve within the program budget, which had been eroded by the SWAT redesign, assembly delays and other issues.

Even if the Pentagon adds money and aircraft to the test program, dont expect any sudden acceleration. Lockheed Martin still has to get all the test aircraft flying - and keep them flying, which has so far not proved that easy. No sooner had the first F-35B arrived at Pax River on Nov. 15 to begin STOVL flight testing when the aircraft went down for 10-12 days maintenance to remove and replace the time-expired transparency-removal detonation chord bonded to the canopy. The down time was anticipated, and the work planned for Pax, says Lockheed.

blog post photo
Canopy chord keeps BF-1 grounded. (Photo: JPO)

Diverting early production aircraft to the test program would seem likely to impact the build-up of the training unit at Elgin, which is scheduled to receive its first CTOL F-35As in July 2010. But one report suggests the additional test aircraft would be Navy carrier-capable F-35Cs, the final version to fly and last to enter service. That would add mission-system test aircraft only towards the end of the development program, but would avoid impacting training, which has to start in 2010 to meet the Marine Corps 2012 initial operational capability deadline.

(Via Ares.)

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