Both the F-35A and F-35B variants have flown with external hardpoints fitted to the wings in recent days.
February 24: On February 16, the first external weapons test mission was flown by F-35A Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL) AF-01 at Edwards Air Force Base, California. The weapons load for this mission involved carrying two air-to-air AIM-9X missiles on the outboard wing stations, four external pylons that can carry 2,000lb air-to-ground weapons, two internal 2,000lb guided bombs (GBU-31) and two advanced medium range air-to-air missiles (AIM-120) inside the two internal weapon bays. The F-35A is designed to carry up to 18,000lbs on ten weapon stations – four weapon stations inside two internal bays for maximum stealth capability, with an additional three on each wing.
On February 22 F-35B test aircraft BF-02 flew with external weapons pylons for the first time. The test measured flying qualities with external pylons, inert AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and a centreline 25mm gun pod. Significant weapons testing for the F-35B and F-35C variants is scheduled for 2012, including fit checks, captive carriage, pit drop and aerial drop tests.
An RAF pilot has flown the F-35C Lightning II for the first time.
February 23: Royal Air Force pilot Squadron Leader Jim Schofield became the UK’s first military test pilot to fly the F-35C, the carrier variant of the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, on February 21 from NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, USA.
“The F-35 has the best handling of any jet I’ve flown, which means it’s going to be easier to land on a ship than current aircraft, and pilots can devote all of their attention to the mission,” Schofield said. “Combined with the world’s best sensors which allow the pilot to find and target anything that’s out there, and a stealthy signature, which means the enemy can’t do the same to you, this is exactly the aircraft the UK needs to provide the best protection for our soldiers, sailors and airmen for the next 35 years.”
Schofield’s flight is the latest in a series of milestones for the UK’s Joint Combat Aircraft program, which included the first F-35C launch on the test electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) on November 18, 2011, and the rollout of the first UK F-35 from the production line four days later. EMALS is the current launching system of record for the future HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, currently under construction.
“This is another major step forward for the UK’s Joint Combat Aircraft programme,” said Group Captain Harv Smyth, the UK’s JSF national deputy. “Squadron Leader Schofield is now test-flying both the [short takeoff and vertical landing] and carrier variants of the F-35, which affords the UK unprecedented early learning regarding this fifth-generation air system. This is a very exciting period for JCA, as not only are we now testing both the B and the C variants, but we look forward to taking delivery of our first production F-35 aircraft later this year.”
An AAC Apache has force-landed in Suffolk.
February 23: At approx 2230 hrs on Tuesday, February 21, Army Air Corps Apache ZJ202 was out on a training mission when it struck the top earth cable of power lines near Tattingstone, Ipswich in Suffolk. The cable, suspended between pylons, was severed it in two and draped itself across the live cables below, narrowly missing a railway line.
The Apache was forced to make an emergency landing after clearing a line of trees and landed in a field approximately 400 meters from the pylons. The crew were apparently unhurt in the incident and by daybreak the area surrounding the helicopter had been cordoned off with a team from Wattisham Airfield securing the site to allow recovery work to begin. Low-level flying training is an essential for the crews, which includes night flying to prepare them for operations in Afghanistan.
Three hundred homes in the locality were without power for a few hours. It is believed that the Apache is not seriously damaged.