F35B for Marines running behind in test flights

Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

Lockheed Martin is making good progress on the F-35 joint strike fighter program, CEO Robert Stevens reassured Wall Street analysts Tuesday.

But Stevens also disclosed during a conference call to discuss the company's second-quarter financial results that one crucial part of the flight testing program has fallen behind schedule.

Flight tests of the F-35B, the short-takeoff and vertical-landing version designed for the Marine Corps and some foreign buyers, have been delayed by failures of some components and systems.

Stevens said component failure rates "are higher than predicted." Lockheed and government test managers are working to understand why and how to improve their design and manufacture, he said.

The F-35B is by far the most complex of three versions of the F-35 and is supposed to be ready to go into service with the Marines by the end of 2012, at least two years earlier than the simpler F-35A is to be ready for the Air Force.

Test flights of two F-35A aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in California and an F-35C model at Fort Worth are both well ahead of plan.

By contrast, only 74 of 95 test flights of the F-35B scheduled to be done by June 30 were completed, Stevens said. Those tests are being conducted by Lockheed and Marine test pilots at the Navy flight test center at Patuxent River, Md.

Lockheed spokesman John Kent later updated the numbers, saying that as of Tuesday, 91 F-35B flights had been completed this year. The schedule calls for 125 test flights to be completed by July 31.

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The Marines need to explain how this added function is crucial to the planes mission. I suspect it may have to do with the ability to operate off the landing ships which have mainly a chopper deck. They also have some advantages in bases with no runway.

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