F-35B STOVL Ground Test Aircraft ahead of schedule

Northrop Grumman Delivers Center Fuselage for First F-35 Ground Test Aircraft

Northrop Grumman press release:

Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has delivered, more than two and one-half months ahead of schedule, the center fuselage for the first F-35 Lightning II static test aircraft, a non-flying, short take-off, vertical landing (STOVL) variant designated BG-1…

The purpose of the static test program is to demonstrate that F-35 airframes, as designed, can successfully endure the structural stresses likely to be experienced over an aircraft’s lifetime. The test program includes both “worst case” testing and repetitive life cycle testing.

Meanwhile: New F/A-18s at The Low, Low Price of $49.9 Million.

Since the F-35 seems to be dragging (a bit) and the price seems to be climbing (a bit), it could be worth a look. Or at least a pretend look to get the F-35 back on track.

In the comments section at Defense Tech:

What next? Is Boeing going to start building B-52’s again and sell them to the Air Force and Navy at margin prices?

We can dream, can’t we?


  1. B-52 with a new composite wing, newer, more powerful and efficient engines…what’s not to like?

  2. The re-engined B-52 has been on the wet dream list for decades. There is just always a newer and better project in the works that will make the B-52 obsolete to come along and kill the project. New composite wing? no. First off the B-52 wings are an engineering marvel and were built far stronger then needed, then strengthened even more low level flight. That is one of the reasons a B-52 is going to remain in service for 100 years. (Well after the B1’s and B2’s are dead and buried.) Personally I don’t trust composites they have a nasty habit of catastrophic failure with little or no warning, have defect rate and field repair is not a good option.

  3. ‘Personally I don’t trust composites they have a nasty habit of catastrophic failure with little or no warning, have defect rate and field repair is not a good option.’ James, I tend to agree with you regarding the ‘composites’ for aircraft. It concerns me when I read Boeing announced that approx. 50% of the fuselage and wings of their new 787 ‘Dreamliner’ would be constructed using ‘composite’ materials. Of course Boeing cites the fact that the ‘composites’ are lighter, thus leading to fuel saving and to appeal to the ecologists leave a smaller carbon footprint. Naturally, the Euros are spouting the same idea regarding their A-380 and the future A-350. Course they don’t mention the bottom line reason is so that the Airlines will make a BIGGER profit!

  4. Does anyone have any idea how much more the F-35 program will end up costing because of the USMC variant?

  5. spacey, I don’t know, but I think the F-35 program would be a total waste of time without the USMC variant. The F-35 won’t really be able to do anything another airframe couldn’t have done cheaper & better (F-22, F-23, updated F-14, etc.), except for STOVL, IMO. Hell, if it wasn’t for the STOVL version, they could have saved many billions of dollars by just redesigning the F-22 a bit to create more internal space for bombs. In fact given that they pretty much share the engine technology, I have no idea where all the F-35 development money went…

  6. Earlier in the war, I proposed the Air Force buy new Super Hornets (Not the first time they’ve bought navy planes) as it seemed ground attack would be their main contribution in the War on Terror. ‘Naw, we’ll keep patching up our 20 year old F-16s and save our money for Raptors!!!’

  7. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with F-16s. I’d rather be flying a block 60+ F-16 than any ‘Super’ Hornet personally. Those massive LERXs may help landing on a carrier but they don’t do wonders for the sustained turn performance…

  8. I can attest to the B-52 re-engining studies. I took part in one in the 1980’s. I think it was about the 4th time it had been looked at. The break even point due to fuel and maintenance savings was about 10-12 years. It was no-go since the B-52 would be phased out ‘soon after that’.

  9. Heck, I’d be happy with original equipment B-52s without all the hours on them…We’d be flying those babies until 2107.

  10. Don’t think that this isn’t playing as a huge factor in Boeing’s dealings either: India to float biggest ever defence tender soon – SJS

  11. Nicholas, Personally, someone in the USMC ought to be courtmartialed for approvinf the STOVL varient. there is NO NEED for this item, and the only reason it’s included is because someone in the USMC knows what strings to pull to get their ‘special needs’ filled. What the STOVAL variant will do is royally F*ck up Carrier Ops. It will mean extended recovery times for the airwing, different handling, launch and recovery procedures. It will mean expensive retraining of flight deck personell for dealing with Marine squadrons, just so they can have their ‘special’ little toy. Now add in undetermined costs to deal with excess wear on the flight deck due to the high-temp exhaust blast, ‘extra’ spare parts having to be purchased stored and maintained for each marine squadron assigned to an airwing, etc. Screw that crap. The marines ought to be slapped silly for this idea. It’s an extra-expensive airframe in both actual and support costs, that no one actually needs. In an era where every Navy dollar is precious, it’s grossly myopic, not to say arrogabt, for the Marines to go in this direction with the wink and nod that the Navy will pick up the extra costs. You want to REALLY do something useful with our defense dollars? Stand down the air force and fold them back into the army where they belong. Give the army the fixed-wing assets it despperately needs, without having to drag airforce combat-controllers along with it. Respects,

  12. Nicholas: My question was kind of getting at what AW1 Tim addressed, although he used Navy specific argumets that I only recently became aware of. http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2007/04/defense_stovl_jsf_070430m/ The USAF is purchasing the lion’s share of the planes, yet both designers in the competition essentially had to create the USMC variant first since it was the most complicated. To me this probably wasted effort, resources, time and might have compromised the overall USAF design. I don’t see the marines using the harrier enough to justify spending all the resources to replace it. I once argued with a guy who said the marines need them when they do amphibious assaults. Yet I can’t imagine them doing such an assualt without a couple of super carriers in the same fleet. Their amphibious ships should be for the helicopters. The carriers, with both navy and marine hornets, can provide the fixed wing support. The marines could have essentially purchased the USAF or Navy design.

  13. To be honest, I’ve always thought that the Marine squadrons that would be based on carriers would fly the ‘C’ model, not the STOVL ‘B’ model. Adding the STOVL squadron to a carrier air wing doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. I guess I had always assumed that Marine units currently operating Harriers would transition to F-35B and Marine units currently operating F-18s would transition to F-35C. I’m not sure how I missed the fact that the Marines are planning to go all STOVL. I guess I’ll have to think about this, but at first glance I just cannot think of any good reason to do that.

  14. Murdoc, Ya know, it would be one thing if the Marine version at least HAD a tailhhook, and could launch and recover normally with the rest of the airwing, using it’s STOVL capability when needs be elsewhere. However, they aren’t planning on adding a tailhook to it, nor training their pilots on Naval arrested landing techniques. One big problem for the flight deck crew is that recovery times for STOVL, as well as Harriers, is longer, nearly twice as long, as for typical arrested landings. That’s with everything moving like clockwork, and sometimes stuff happens to mess that up. That means that the airwing either has to take longer all around to get aboard, or either the Marines or the Navy squadrons have to hang around the marshalling area, tanking as required, while the other types get aboard. Anyway, sorry to miss you up here in God’s country, but glad you were able to have fun 🙂 Respects,

  15. If you guys are interested, there is another blog discussion on the F-35 that is somewhat interesting. http://www.defensetech.org/archives/003314.html

  16. Yeah, I had assumed the same that Murdoc had, that the V/STOL version would replace the Harrier and operate off smaller carriers. In the sense that that means you can have lots of smaller carriers that can operate in pretty much any weather condition, yet be supersonic and more capable jets than the Harrier, that seems worthwhile. I do think that they might as well have made it a more different variant rather than try to shoe-horn its requirements into the main aircraft. I also assumed that what the Marines were demanding, they actually need. They seem to be one of the less fanciful branches, generally content not to develop dead-end projects like, ahem, the US Navy. Maybe I was wrong.

  17. My understanding is the V/STOL version was going to be based on the new LHA amphibs. Basically its a small carrier. Though I can see them being used on the big carriers.

  18. James: That’s what I thought, too. Though the F-35 might not be the best option (*cough* F-23 *cough*) I certainly have no problem with finding a replacement for the Harrier. F-35B fills that role and I don’t have too much against it. It’s the idea that the Marines also plan to replace all of their F-18s with F-35Bs that’s troubling. That, apparently, is what they intend to do. Though I have no idea why. Optional use on supercarriers as needed? Sure. But F up standard flight deck ops with the things?

  19. I am not sure they need to replace the Harrier, meaning when it reaches retirement they do not need to get another such aircraft. I think the USMC relies more heavily on their F-18s and Cobras than on their harriers. I even like how they use their Ds as something other than a two seat trainer. If I am correct, then it is a shame the F-35B was the center of gravity in the development of this program. The USAF was supposed to purchase around 1700 of their version and I have heard alot of complaints that it is not much better than the A-10 or F-16 it is replacing. For what we are spending, you would have hoped for more. That is why I originally suggested the F-35B might have taken away from the final product destined for the USAF.

  20. I think is a example of one the strengths and weaknesses of the US Armed forces. We don’t have one air force, we have 3 & 1/2.( The Air Force, The Navy, The Marines, and 1/2 goes to the Army) Each having its own doctrine. Chances are, one of them is going to be right. Chances are one or more of them is going to be wrong. Either way, we pay for it. I can understand the Marines desire to be free from the dependency on the carriers and the image of an all VSTOL stealth force has cool concept. Personally I wish someone would understand that a mix of high and low tech forces, specializing in their roles has some value. The Marine corps should really toss the F-18, and replace it with F-35B’s and A-10’s. That is what they need. The F-35 to act as decent fighter and the A-10 to act in CAS role that the F-35 really cannot do.

  21. The Harrier and F-35B are great concepts and work well for those nations that have opted for that type of strategy. Early RAF Harriers could be stationed in frontline forested areas of Germany and would have been able to use short stretches of highway to take off and land. The RN built the smaller jump-jet carriers for them and the Harriers served them well in the Falklands. However, the US has invested in a different strategy. On the USAF side we have built many foreign air bases, bought a large tanker fleet and expensive multirole fighters. On the USN side we have bought the super carriers affording us the option of operating convential fighters. In addition the army/marines have a large number of attack helicopters for close in work. Any marine amphibious operation will have navy carriers involved. Also the marines, to the best of my knowledge, have not yet utilized their harriers from any land based locations where they could not have also operated hornets. So the image of a harrier taking off vertically from behind a hillside to support front line troops is a bit of a stretch. The marines are served well by the hornet and will maximize efficiency with the rest of the navy if they use the F-35C. This is not a slam on the harrier concept. I rather like the aircraft. I just think it doesn’t maximize our overall procurement strategy.

  22. This is not a slam on the harrier concept. I rather like the aircraft. I just think it doesn’t maximize our overall procurement strategy.’ …The QDR is supposed to guideline to the overall procurement strategy. Reality is, there is no overall procurement strategy.

  23. ‘Reality is, there is no overall procurement strategy. ‘ Shhhh…do you have any idea how many programs you threaten when you say that so loud?!? What if someone hears?

  24. The programs are safe … ‘people’ only here that which is said in the context of a multimedia power point presentation provided you provide free finger food and a cute hostess.

  25. I agree with Nicholas, if it wasn’t for the STOVL version of the F-35, why bother? Does the Navy need a single engine attack airplane? Like they need another hole in the head. That’s what made the A-6 great, the fact that it could be shot down with a magic BB? I don’t think so. It was tough as nails and carried a massive amount of ordinance. In Vietnam often damage inflicted by the A-6 was attributed to the B-52 because no one could believe a carrier based aircraft could weild so much destructive power. Hell, if we still had a Navy, they’d have built a subsonic attack airplane to replace the A-6 instead of pretending with that POS F-18. Oh, and I’m all for re-engining the B-52s. Replace the 8 JT-8s with CF-6s. More power, longer range, faster, lower heat signature, more bombs, what’s not to like? Oh yeah, no big sucking hole of a development program for our defense contractors to bleed us dry with. I forgot.

  26. I meant to say, replace the 8 JT-8s with 4 CF-6s. Better reliability too. I can’t believe they haven’t started already. Pure stupidity.

  27. CSBA Lays Out Options for Revamping JSF Program By JOHN T. BENNETT The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments rolled out four options to cut Pentagon costs on the multibillion-dollar Joint Strike Fighter program, including halving the proposed purchase by one U.S. service -and canceling it altogether. The report, prepared by CSBA’s Steve Kosiak and Barry Watts, says the JSF may cost so much that the Pentagon’s air warfare plans ‘may be unbalanced in favor of fighters, vice longer-range strike aircraft.’ The tri-service, international program could cost $240 billion in 2008 dollars over its life, Kosiak told reporters June 20. The Air Force has said it will buy 1,763 F-35s, while the Navy and Marine Corps have laid out plans to purchase 680. Service-specific fleets of those sizes would bring the cost of the Air Force variant, the F-35A, to about $74 million per plane and the Navy-Marine Corps version to about $97 million per fighter, an average of $81 million per aircraft, according to Kosiak. ‘There is reason to worry that the JSF’s funding requirements will crowd out future investment in long-range strike capabilities,’ the report said. And because many in the U.S. defense realm point to the enormous Asia-Pacific region as the next likely theater for American forces, warplanes capable of traveling farther than existing and new U.S. fighters will be needed, Watts said. The report suggests four ways to save JSF money for a nascent Air Force effort to develop a new long-range bomber or other programs, including: ~ Cancel the F-35. Kosiak and Watts say the Air Force could replace its JSFs with Block 60 versions of the F-16 fighter, while the Navy and Marines could buy more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. Doing so, according to the study, could save $3 billion to $3.7 billion. ~ Alter the Air Force portion of the program. This option calls for the air service to buy just half its planned 1,763 F-35s and replace the ones not bought with Block 60 F-16s, which several U.S. allies have recently bought. This approach might free between $300 million and $350 million, CSBA says. ~ Sink the Navy’s carrier version. By instead purchasing additional F/A-18E/Fs, the military could save $450 million to $550 million, the report estimates. ~ Half conventional, zero carrier variants. Under this plan, the Air Force would buy only 880 conventional F-35As, while the Navy would scrap its carrier variant and buy more Super Hornets. This approach, the study said, could free up $800 million to $1.1 billion. Watts said the Air Force and Navy could still conduct their expected future missions with new Block 60 F-16s and Super Hornets, largely because of the advent of precision-guided munitions. ‘The maturation of guided munitions and battle networks argues that fewer advanced fighters will be needed in the future than were required in the prior era of industrial-style warfare in which munitions missed their aim points or targets,’ the report said. The report omits any mention of the F-22A Raptor, and the Air Force’s steadfast desire for 381 of the stealthy jets. Watts acknowledged that Air Force leaders would likely seriously consider buying more of their prized F-22As, not Block 60 F-16s, if the service ever found unallocated dollars in its fighter account.

  28. You taxpayers are so damn stupid! You never cancel a program in the development phase when we contractors are raping you, but always cancel them in the production phase when we are actually building hardware, you know, the stuff that shoots real bullets and keeps you safe… Then we dangle another pie-in-the-sky proposal in front of you and off we go on another boondoggle. Are you all such a bunch of abject morons that you think you really need a new development program to replace the B-2 with another B-2? You deserve to pay high taxes. Fools should be parted with their money, and the faster the better. Hell, you’d be better off to raise the profit margin on production by 5% so the contractors would actually go back to lobbing for production work again. As it is now, the numbers of ships, airplanes, you name it is dwindling fast, and there is nothing to replace them. Sure you could kill some people by dropping all that paper on them, but it won’t make a very spectacular light show.