X-35A breaks sound barrier

11/27/00 - EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif (AFPN) - Just 25 hours and 25 flights into its airborne test program, the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighter X-35A broke the sound barrier Nov. 21, continuing an aggressive program of flight-envelope expansion.

Test pilot Tom Morgenfeld lifted off from here and took the X-35A to 25,000 feet altitude, reaching Mach 1.05.

Earlier in the day, on the X-35A's 24th flight, Morgenfeld demonstrated the aircraft's ability to land on an aircraft carrier during six practice carrier landing demonstrations, previewing the aircraft's low-speed carrier approach handling qualities in advance of upcoming tests with the second demonstrator, the X-35C. He said controllability in the carrier landing profiles was excellent as he used a Fresnel lens on the ground for pilot cues during his approach to a simulated carrier deck outlined on the runway here.

"These results were accomplished by our team's approach to tackle technical challenges up front," said Tom Burbage, executive vice president and general manager of the Lockheed Martin JSF program. "This aircraft has allowed us to concentrate on validating those flying characteristics that cannot be adequately proven through modeling and simulation."

With its flight testing now complete, the X-35A returned to Lockheed Martin's nearby Palmdale, Calif., facility to be fitted with a shaft-driven lift-fan propulsion system. It will be renamed the X-35B and will begin ground testing in preparation for its short takeoff/vertical landing demonstrations.

"In flight-testing the X-35A, we've been gathering information on the STOVL X-35B model since the up-and-away performance is the same," said Harry Blot, vice president and deputy program manager for the Lockheed Martin JSF team. "We also have completed engine runs on the X-35C - the Navy configuration - and expect it to take flight by mid-December."

The conventional-takeoff-and-landing X-35A, designed to meet Air Force specifications, is externally identical to the STOVL X-35B, the U.S. Marine Corps/ British Royal Air Force and Royal Navy JSF demonstrator. Consequently, much of the X-35A's flight-test data will satisfy government requirements for the X-35B.

"All three of these aircraft are very close representations of the planes we're proposing for full-scale production," Blot said. "When you see our flight-test data, you're essentially seeing data that the production aircraft would generate." (Courtesy of the Air Force Flight Test Center News Service)