A BAE Systems led test team has welcomed the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Lightning II (also known as the Joint Strike Fighter) to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, for flight testing.
The first F-35B aircraft, designated BF-1, arrived at Patuxent River on 15 November. The Integrated Test Force team at the station will now begin a carefully planned programme of flights that will see the aircraft begin steeper and slower descents before achieving the first true vertical landing by the F-35.
Mick Ord, BAE Systems F-35 Managing Director said: “BAE Systems brings key capabilities to the F-35 programme. These include a unique heritage in short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft gained through the design and development of the Harrier aircraft in the 1960s and early 1970s, which makes us ideally placed to lead these trials. Derivatives of the original Harrier are now flown by the U.K., India, Spain, Italy and the US Marine Corps. The Joint Strike Fighter continues to build on the short takeoff/vertical landing experience, and it’s great to be able to apply our expertise on this tremendous aircraft.”
The move to Patuxent River follows a series of successful hover pit trials conducted at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant, which demonstrated the STOVL capability of the aircraft. During these trials, BF-1 was anchored on top of a BAE Systems-designed metal grid about 15 feet off the floor of the pit enabling the aircraft to simulate free-air flight.
These tests measured the output of the aircraft’s STOVL propulsion system and demonstrated that the F-35B exceeded the vertical thrust required to carry out its missions. The tests conducted also validated the performance of aircraft software, controls, thermal management, STOVL-system hardware and many other systems.
A key enabler to the move to Patuxent River has been the completion of aerial refueling tests that have cleared the F-35B for extended-range flights. These flights, conducted by the second STOVL variant aircraft, BF-2, demonstrated the aircraft’s ability to refuel in flight using the probe-and-drogue approach favoured by the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.
Whilst at Patuxent River the F-35B will also replicate operations aboard “ski jump” aircraft carriers, such as those operated by the Royal Navy using a specially designed ramp.
In March 2009, the U.K. Ministry of Defence announced its intention to order three instrumented STOVL F-35 Lightning II test aircraft and associated support equipment for Operational Test and Evaluation purposes.
Rolls-Royce, the global power systems company, has signed a $171 million contract with Pratt & Whitney to supply the Rolls-Royce LiftSystem® for a further 9 Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant F-35B Lightning II aircraft as part of the third lot of Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP).
This order is the second production contract for Rolls-Royce as part of its involvement in the JSF programme. The previous contract, for LRIP 2 and signed in December 2008, was for $131m.
The Rolls-Royce LiftSystem comprises a LiftFan, Roll Posts and 3 Bearing Swivel Module. Rolls-Royce will provide these through the propulsion system prime contractor Pratt & Whitney, with module deliveries having already commenced in July 2009 under the Long Lead provision within the contract. The scope of the contract also includes spare hardware, production investment and sustainment planning.
Simon Henley, Director for New Product Introduction at Rolls-Royce Defence Aerospace, said:
“This new contract, together with the imminent first flight of the F-35 in STOVL mode, shows the Rolls-Royce LiftSystem programme is now generating real momentum and that Rolls-Royce technology is helping to bring a step change in air combat technology.
“As the LiftSystem programme continues to gain momentum on both sides of the Atlantic we are looking forward to supporting the flight trials with the LiftSystem engaged in the F-35B at the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River”.
Orders for the LiftSystem are expected to total over 600, with leading customers including the US Marine Corps, The UK Armed Forces and the Italian Navy. The F-35B variant is expected to remain in service well after 2050.
Rolls-Royce engineers in Bristol, UK and Indianapolis, US, are involved in design and assembly of the LiftSystem, with component manufacture also taking place at the Hucknall and Bristol sites in the UK.
This production contract follows on from the $1.1bn contract signed with Pratt & Whitney in 2001 to develop the F135 STOVL Propulsion System.