The first mission systems-equipped Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter flew for the first time today, ushering in what will be the most powerful and comprehensive sensor package ever to fly in a fighter.
During the flight, F-35 Test Pilot David Nelson climbed to 15,500 feet (4,700 meters), verified engine response at varying throttle settings, performed a series of flight-qualities maneuvers and checked the operation of the aircraft's mission systems. The flight out of Lockheed Martin's Fort Worth plant began at 10:04 a.m. CDT and concluded at 10:59 a.m.
"Today's flight initiates a level of avionics capability that no fighter has ever achieved," said Eric Branyan, Lockheed Martin F-35 deputy program manager. "The F-35's next-generation sensor suite enables a new capability for multi role aircraft, collecting vast amounts of data and fusing the information into a single, highly comprehensible display that will enable the pilot to make faster and more effective tactical decisions."
The F-35's avionics, or mission systems, also process and apply data from a wide array of off-board sensors based on land, in the air or at sea, enabling the jet to perform command-and-control functions while providing unprecedented situational awareness to air and surface forces.
The F-35's full mission systems suite includes:
- Northrop Grumman AN/APG-81 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar
- Long-range, multiple simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-ground targeting; SAR mapping
- Lockheed Martin Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS)
- Long-range, passive infrared search and track, air-to-air and air-to-ground targeting capabilities
- Northrop Grumman Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System (EO-DAS)
- Passive, spherical, long-range threat detection; source of infrared video and night-vision projection onto pilot's helmet visor for spherical view around aircraft
- BAE Systems Electronic Warfare (EW) system
- Simultaneous geo-location of multiple threats and targets
- VSI Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS)
- Helmet with integrated, virtual head-up display, targeting information, look-shoot capability and video/night vision projected onto the helmet visor
- Northrop Grumman Integrated Communication, Navigation & Identification (ICNI)
- Friend-or-foe identification; automatic acquisition of fly-to points; secure multi-wave, multiband, multimode wireless communications and data links
- Lockheed Martin Integrated Core Processor (ICP)
- Supports radar, EOTS and DAS sensor processing, navigation, stores management fire control and fusion of sensor and off-board information
- Honeywell Inertial Navigation System
- Raytheon Global Positioning System
F-35 BF-4, a short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, will begin testing with the AESA radar, EW, ICNI, ICP, GPS, INS and HMDS, then integrate the remaining sensors as flight testing progresses. F-35C carrier variant and F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variant test aircraft will be similarly mission systems-equipped, with mission systems commonality among the three variants near 100 percent. High avionics commonality is an enabler of rapid training, interoperability, and lower production and support costs.
F-35 avionics already have undergone more than 100,000 hours of laboratory testing, including sensor-fusion testing in the program's Cooperative Avionics Test Bed, a highly modified 737 airliner incorporating the entire F-35 mission systems suite, including an F-35 cockpit. F-35 software has demonstrated remarkable stability, and sensors have met or exceeded performance predictions.
BF-4 is scheduled to fly to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., where it will join three other F-35Bs currently undergoing flight testing. BF-4's general test objectives include providing data for mission systems Block 0.5 functionality in the F-35 flight environment to evaluate hardware and software implementation and integration, and providing data to support mission systems component development.
The Block 0.5 software incorporates important capabilities, including air-to-air search and synthetic aperture radar modes, identification friend/foe transponder, integrated UHF/VHF radios, electronic warfare radar warning receiver, and navigation functions. Information is presented to the pilot through state-of-the-art cockpit and helmet displays.
The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations, advanced sustainment, and lower operational and support costs. Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 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.