Tuesday, January 22, 2013

F-35: 2013 will be showcase an ambitious test schedule

You probably saw a short story or two on the recent DOT&E report that found stress cracks in an F-35B bulkhead at the 7,000 hour mark and other problems it cited.

Lockheed Martin has responded:
Lockheed Martin says it is not disputing the facts laid out in the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test Evaluation (DOT&E) report on the company's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), but says that many of the issues raised have already been addressed.

"The challenges that are identified in the report are known items, normal discoveries," says Steve O'Bryan, Lockheed's F-35 business development director. "When you look at it from a holistic sense, when you really talk about beginning OT [operational test] in 2017, these are known discoveries, known challenges, and the kind of normal discoveries you'd see in a flight test programme of this size and complexity." Despite the problems highlighted in the report, O'Bryan says 2012 went very well for the stealthy tri-service fighter. "In my humble opinion, it was our best year on the programme," he says.
Or, "old news".  When government reports finally get to the compiling, approving and, finally, issuing stage, the information is often quite dated.  That's the case here.

More importantly, this is a "developmental aircraft" - you're going to find problems with it as you test and you're going to have to fix them.  Testing is precisely where you want to find them.  Read the round up of what LM is doing to fix the problems cited (including an update on software).

What  you don't want is show stoppers.  What DOT&E reports about are normal and routine finds that are being addressed or have been addressed.

What's just as important, if not more important, is what will is on the horizon for the program.
For 2013, O'Bryan says the company's goals are to deliver more than 30 aircraft, complete a flight test plan of 1153 flights and 7689 test points, releasing Block 2B to flight test, and releasing Block 2A to the training fleet at Eglin AFB. Lockheed also hopes to complete the first lifetime of durability testing on the F-35B and C, and the company hopes to start delivering guided weapons from the aircraft. There will also be a second round of sea trials for the F-35B on the USS Wasp and operational testers at Nellis AFB, Nevada, should start to receive their first jets. Additionally, the Italian final assembly line should start delivering jets this year, O'Bryan says.
That's ambitious, but if 2012's results are any indication, certainly achievable.  And, assuming all goes as planned:
O'Bryan adds that at this point, the F-35 is more than one-third of its way through its flight test programme. "We are on track to finish development in 2016," he insists. 

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