The aircraft is an instrumented test aircraft and is the first F-35A CTOL jet to be built on the Fort Worth moving production line to the current production standard, and was originally scheduled to have flown in the first quarter of the year. Two other ‘optimised’ test aircraft, both F-35Bs, are currently flying, with vehicle BF-1 finally departing Fort Worth on November 12 for Patuxent River to commence its vertical landing flight tests. The other F-35A flying, AA-1, is a non-production standard aircraft having been largely built before a 2004 redesign, and is currently at Edwards AFB.
“The initial flight of the first optimised CTOL aircraft represents a significant achievement for the program and sets the stage for what’s promising to be a successful flight test program,” said Maj Gen C D Moore, deputy program executive officer for the JSF Program Office. “We are excited to see AF-1 taking flight, as it portends a bright CTOL future for the USAF and the partner nations.”
The F-35 program has been beset by delays in getting aircraft from production into the flight test program this year, with only about 30 per cent of the previously scheduled flight test hours expected to be flown by year’s end.