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F-35B: “Running When We Intended to Crawl”

by John Reed on October 19, 2011

As you know, the Marine Corps’ F-35B Joint Strike Fighter has been conducting short take-offs and vertical landings aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp for a few weeks now.  Just yesterday, the F-35 program invited a host of reporters to watch the jet conduct operations from the Wasp.

The B-model, once beset with cost overruns and testing delays, is now “running when we in tended to crawl,” naval F-35 test director Marine Col. Roger Cordell told reporters aboard the Wasp.

As of yesterday, the B had performed 60 of the 67 test flights it is slated to fly off the Wasp. Testing will end on Thursday.

Here’s an interesting write up in Defense News on how the jet compares to the Marines’ F/A-18 Hornets:

The aircraft has flown very well during the sea trials, said Marine Lt. Col. Matt Kelly, lead F-35 test pilot at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Md. While he couldn’t compare the jet directly to the Harrier since he was an F/A-18 Hornet pilot, Kelly pointed out that the sea trials are his first experience operating from an amphibious assault ship, which is a testimony to the F-35B’s excellent handling characteristics.

“I have found this airplane to be just a really nice airplane to fly in the shipboard environment,” he said. “Prior to two weeks ago I had never landed or taken-off from this type of ship… It’s a pleasure to fly.”

Kelly added that the F-35B is easier to handle on the flight deck than he had imagined it would be. The challenge is not landing the aircraft but rather “putting the nose tire in a 1-foot-by-1-foot square box,” he said.

In up and away flight, the F-35 handles magnificently, similar to a clean F/A-18 Hornet with more power, Kelly said.

Remember, the troubled B-model was put on a two year probation by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and last week Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said the DoD might not be able to buy all three variants of the jet. Needless to say, these successful sea trials are a much needed PR coup for the Marines’ future fighter.

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