First F-35 Lightning II flight

12:44 PM CST, Ft. Worth, Texas:

The flight lasted about 35 minutes. (UPDATE: Some reports claim that the flight was planned for an hour and that the plane landed early for an unknown reason. Obviously, as a first flight of a new aircraft, it could have been cut short for any of a million reasons. Or the reports could be wrong.)

More pics here. Huge hat tip to the reader who sent Murdoc the link!

UPDATE 2: Lockheed Martin press release below. No mention of why the flight was shorter than planned.

UPDATE 3: A bit of a flap over the flags on the plane?


FORT WORTH, TEXAS,December 15, 2006

The Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] F-35 Lightning II lifted into the skies today for the first time, completing a successful inaugural flight and initiating the most comprehensive flight test program in military aviation history.

The first F-35 Lightning II flew for the first time on Friday, Dec. 15. The plane is shown climbing out shortly after takeoff from Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. The stealthy, multi-service F-35 is the most powerful single-engine fighter in history, and is designed to replace the F-16, F/A-18 Hornet, the Harrier and the A-10.

“The Lightning II performed beautifully,” said F-35 Chief Pilot Jon Beesley following the flight. “What a great start for the flight-test program, and a testimony to the people who have worked so hard to make this happen.” The most powerful engine ever placed in a fighter aircraft – the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan, with 40,000 pounds of thrust – effortlessly pushed the F-35 skyward.

The flight of the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35 variant began at 12:44 p.m. CST at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, when the jet lifted off and began a climb-out to 15,000 feet. Beesley then performed a series of maneuvers to test aircraft handling and the operation of the engine and subsystems. He returned for a landing at 1:19 p.m CST. Two F 16s and an F/A-18 served as chase aircraft.

The stealthy F-35 is a supersonic, multi-role, 5TH Generation fighter designed to replace a wide range of existing aircraft, including AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and United Kingdom Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers.

“The first flight of the F-35 Lightning II is an historic moment because, for the first time ever, we are seeing the dawn of an aircraft with all the 5TH Generation attributes – including advanced stealth, fighter agility, sensor fusion and greatly improved supportability – combined in an affordable package,” said Ralph Heath, president of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. “The F-35 will be the most advanced and most capable multi-role fighter on the international market for many, many years to come.”

Dan Crowley, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, said the aircraft has continued to meet or exceed expectations during its assembly and pre-flight checkouts. It has now embarked on a 12,000-hour flight-test program designed to validate tens of thousands of hours of testing already completed in F-35 laboratories. “The F-35 will enter service as the most exhaustively tested, most thoroughly proven fighter system in history,” Crowley said. “And thanks to its all-digital design, an exceptionally talented international engineering team and the world’s best assemblers and mechanics, the F-35 has completely rewritten the book on fighter assembly precision and quality.”

The United States and eight international partners are involved the F-35’s funding and development. The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, and the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy plan to acquire a total of 2,581 F-35s. Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway also are partners in the program and are expected to add about 700 more aircraft to the total. F-35 sales to other international customers could push the final number of aircraft to 4,500 or beyond.

“We believe the F-35 is poised to become the world standard-bearer of fighter aircraft,” said Tom Burbage, Lockheed Martin executive vice president and general manager of F-35 program integration.

Three versions of the F-35 are under development: a conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant for conventional runways, a short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant for operating off small ships and near front-line combat zones, and a carrier variant (CV) for catapult launches and arrested recoveries on board the U.S. Navy’s large aircraft carriers.

Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 Lightning II with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Two separate, interchangeable F-35 engines are under development: the Pratt & Whitney F135 and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team F136.

Official photo:


  1. Well, the credit goes to the reader who sent me the link and to whoever took and posted the pictures. (Possibly the same person…I don’t know). Still, this is probably about as close to breaking a story that Murdoc Payday Online is likely to get. I haven’t seen anyone else anywhere else with pictures up yet. Surely that’s worth a vote or two in the Weblog Awards!

  2. Speaking of breaking Air Force news, I just saw this was posted: Longtime Air Force coach DeBerry retires

  3. BTW, the pics are courtesy of a poster at link:

  4. Witnessed this flight live today during the employee ‘all hands meet’ at the Pratt hanger East Hartford, CT. What we witnessed today is an aircraft power plant that is known via DOD as the Conventional Take-Off & Landing (CTOL) Version. Full use of a land located flight deck. Many hours were spent managing the assembly operation and the evolving ‘work in process’ system this CTOL version experienced. I mention manage and evolving with skepticism only because of the ever increasing reliability for a corporation and management to depend heavily on a product produced and engineered by temporary,contract employees who can only gain personal satisfaction rather than a sense of corporate reward or belonging to this program. Some of this work is actually archived as far as India and Pueto Rico which now puts a new meaning on a product that you thought was made by true employee commitment across all partnerships. Thus the company Moto ‘The eagle is everywhere’ but Pratt engines can use focus on quality control beyond it’s low cost borders which creates wildfires a well seasoned auditor has to try to control. Evolving engineering data requirements are still changing as standard work issues are still not carved in stone. Quality issues along the way ? Lets just say they were lost in the translation of the new global,economic, communication arena supporting a developing engine patterned for similar production techniques.

  5. It sounds like the flight ended early because the test pilot completed the tests faster than planned. I know that’s happened in the past… seems reasonable that it’s what happened in this case, as the person said at

  6. The test ended early because a test probe failed during take-off. Supposedly the same prode had failed during taxi tests.

  7. Let’s face it, they have to go to contractors because no company keeps the kinds of people they need to get the job done around any more. They threaten the project. If you’ve got a project going and you’re selling airplanes, do you want someone working for you to say, ‘hey, we could build a new plane that does the job better for cheaper’? Heck no. You get rid of those people. The YF-23 was designed by contractors. It had some of the best aero work I’ve ever seen done on it. Unfortunately none of the JSF competitors was worth a damn. Even at that, the F-35 has a lot of advantages over the F-22. Now the question is whether or not they can get one on board an aircraft carrier. Thank goodness they’ve kept the competitor engine program alive. I doubt the VTOL version will ever fly with F-135 power.

  8. The flight was cut short because of an ‘air data sensor’ wasn’t working properly. The first flight was actually supposed to happen on Monday the 11th, but they kept delaying it — I haven’t been able to find out why – Ft. Worth hasn’t told us out here in Palmdale — but yes, perhaps it was the same reason. -Brian (F-35 design engineer) P.S. I am supposed to say that these comments are my own views and opinions, not that of the company.

  9. The design lends itself to less of the internal volume being consumed by the intakes, James. That’s one of the really bad things about the F-22. It’s just a flying pair of intakes. It leaves no room for weapons or fuel. The YF-23 was much better that way, but then it was far superior to either airplane with regard to everything aerodynamic. It’s hard to believe the USAF could have two airplanes side by side and pick such a pig.

  10. The flags are in partner order on both sides. When th F-16 was new, General Dynamics did the same thing: