15 December 2006: Lockheed Martin Chief Test Pilot Jon S. Beesely takes the first prototype F-35A Lightning II stealth strike fighter for its first test flight at Forth Worth, Texas. Taking off at 12:44 p.m., CST (18:44 UTC), Beesley took the prototype, designated AA-1, to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) at 225 knots (259 miles per hour/417 kilometers per hour) to test the aircraft in landing configuration prior to continuing with other tests.
Beesely said that the F-35A, “. . . handled well, better than the simulator.” He compared it to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, and said that it handled like the Raptor, but better.
During the flight a minor problem occurred when two sensors disagreed. Although this was simply a calibration problem, test protocol required that Beesely bring the airplane back. He landed at Fort Worth at 1:19 p.m.
Jon S. Beesley was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force in 1972 and flew the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. He attended the Air Force Test Pilot School and was later assigned as a project test pilot for the Lockheed F-117 Nighthawk.
After leaving the Air Force, Beesley became a test pilot for General Dynamics where he tested various configurations of the F-16 and the prototype YF-22. Through a series of mergers, General Dynamics evolved into today’s Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company. After testing the three configurations of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35A, F-35B and F-35C, Jon Beesley retired in 2009.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a “multirole” stealth fighter capable of air defense, ground attack and reconnaissance. There are three variants: The F-35A is designed for conventional takeoff and landing; the F-35B is a short takeoff/vertical landing variant and the F-35C is for use aboard aircraft carriers.
The F-35A Lightning II is a single-place, single-engine supersonic stealth aircraft. It is 51.4 feet (15.7 meters) long with a wingspan of 35 feet (10.7 meters) and overall height of 14.4 feet (4.28 meters). It has an empty weight of 29,300 pounds (13,290 kilograms) and can carry 18,000 pounds of weapons. Maximum takeoff weight is 70,000 pounds (31,800 kilograms).
The F-35 is powered by one Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 turbofan engine. This is an axial-flow engine with a 3-stage fan section, 6 stage compressor and 2 stage turbine section (1 high- and 1 low-pressure stage.) The engine is rated at 43,000 pounds of thrust (191.17 kilonewtons) with afterburner.It is 18 feet, 4 inches (5.500 meters) long, 3 feet, 7 inches (1.092 meters) in diameter, and weighs 3,750 pounds (1,701 kilograms).
Maximum speed of the F-35A with internal weapons is Mach 1.6+.
The F-35A is armed with a General Dynamics GAU-22/A 25mm four-barrel rotary cannon with 180 rounds of ammunition. The gun has a rate of fire of 3,300 rounds per minute. The standard weapons load consists of two AIM-120C AMRAAM air-to-air missiles and two 2,000 pound GBU-31 JDAM guided bombs carried in an internal bay.
The United States Air Force plans on buying 1,763 F-35As. The U.S. Navy will get 260 F-35Cs while the Marine Corps plans for 420 F-35Bs. Ten other counties have ordered various configurations of the lightning II.
After completing its test program of 91 flights, in 2009 F-35A AA-1 was turned over to the U.S. Navy for use as a live fire target at NAWC China Lake, California.
© 2016, Bryan R. Swopesby