First F-35 for U.S. Navy rolls out

The composites-intensive fighter jet, the third variant in the F-35 line, will begin ground testing before first flight later this year.

A July 28 ceremony at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas, plant marked the debut of the U.S. Navy’s first-ever stealth fighter, the F-35C Lightning II. The aircraft, with an airframe that is 30 percent composites, by weight, reportedly will give the Navy 5th Generation fighter capabilities at sea.

Top Navy leadership was on hand, amid signal flags and a crowd of Lockheed Martin employees, including reserve and retired Navy personnel, to celebrate the strike fighter’s unveiling. Adm. Gary Roughead, the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations, welcomed the new aircraft to the fleet.

Tom Burbage, a former Navy test pilot and the executive VP and general manager of F-35 Program Integration, thanked Navy leadership for its full engagement in the F-35’s development and “actively working to define joint and coalition tactics that will exploit this platform in ways we’ve never envisioned. We at Lockheed Martin are both proud and humbled by the trust the U.S. Navy has placed with us to lead the development and introduction of the Navy’s newest stealthy, supersonic strike fighter.”

The first F-35C, designated CF-1, will undergo a series of ground tests before its first flight, scheduled for late this year. CF-1 is the ninth F-35 test aircraft off the assembly line, and it joins a fleet of F-35A (conventional takeoff and landing) and F-35B (short takeoff/vertical landing) variants that have logged more than 100 flights. The F-35C is on schedule to meet the Navy’s Initial Operational Capability in 2015, and represents a leap in technology and capability over existing fighters, combining stealth with supersonic speed and high agility. The Lightning II also employs the most powerful and comprehensive sensor package ever incorporated into a fighter.

Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, Md.) is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman (Baltimore, Md.) and BAE Systems (Rockville, Md.). Two separate, interchangeable F-35 engines are under development: the F135, built by Pratt & Whitney, and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team’s new engine, the F136.