The First F-35B Night Flight


April 3, 2013 PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – An F-35B Lightning II completed the first short takeoff and vertical landing during a test mission at night to expand the flight envelope and deliver capability to the warfighter.

Marine Corps test pilot Maj. C.R. Clift conducted the flight April 2 to gather data on the helmet and lighting conditions for nighttime operations. The test was one of a series of events being conducted to prepare for the second of three scheduled at-sea test periods during the development program. The first F-35 ship trials occurred in 2011, when two F-35Bs performed 72 vertical landings and takeoffs aboard the USS WASP, a large-deck amphibious ship.

The F-35B is the variant of the Lightning II designed for use by the U.S. Marine Corps, as well as F-35 international partners in the United Kingdom and Italy. The F-35B is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings to enable air power projection from amphibious ships, ski-jump aircraft carriers and expeditionary airfields.

The completion of this test event demonstrates the F-35B is one step closer to delivering a critical capability to the U.S. Marine Corps and F-35B partners in the United Kingdom and Italy” said Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, F-35 Program Executive Officer. “There is plenty of work to be done and progress to be made, but we’re on a solid path forward.

The F-35B has conducted approximately 700 short takeoffs and completed more than 380 vertical landings including the first operational vertical landing aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. March 21, 2013.

The F-35B will enable the Marine Corps to preserve its expeditionary nature and bring the next generation of warfighting capabilities to the Joint Force,” said Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Aviation. As the threat environment becomes more sophisticated, the STOVL F-35B will enable the Marine Air Ground Task Force to project power from amphibious ships as well as austere expeditionary airfields across the entire range of military operations.  The first nighttime vertical landing represents the continued success of the program as well as the completion of yet another milestone towards realizing the full capabilities of the F-35B.

Second Line of Defense recently conducted an interview with Lt. General Schmidle and expect to publish it shortly.  In our interview, Schmidle highlighted the role of the software upgradeable aspects of the F-35 as a weapon system.

Question: Another aspect of the plane, which is often ignored, is that it is a software upgradeable aircraft, which allows it to evolve with the threat environment.  How do you view the impact of having a software upgradeable aircraft as a baseline capability from which to work from towards the future? 

Lt. General Schmidle: If you go back into the ’50s when we were designing airplanes, like the A4 and the F4 and the F-111, if you wanted to change something in that weapon system of an F4, you took a black box out that was this long, this wide and weighed 30 pounds.  And you found a different black box and you stuffed it in there, and it was about this big.  When we evolved into the F-18, we had boxes that were much smaller, and they were capable of some reprogramming because we would put new tapes, et cetera, et cetera into them.  

But now we’re evolving to what you just described, which is an airplane that is software reprogrammable.  It’s a big server, if you will, in many ways. 

And it allows us to continue to reprogram it in ways that will hopefully keep us either ahead of the threat or that will allow us to get the higher levels of integration and fusion.  And when – and that won’t be soon — we begin to hit up against the extent of the computing power, or the analytics in the airplane, that we’ve got the links available that we can off-board some of those analytics to other places that they might be able to more efficiently operate.  

If you’re in the net and the net is going to look more and more, in my mind, like a cloud in the future, that kind of architecture, then it will look like a conventional database where queries, have to come from individual parts of that database, whereas a cloud can query across the database. 

And that’s something that we are just discovering now in the IT world the power of cloud. The architecture of this airplane will allow it to evolve into that kind of architecture as it matures.

The F-35B is undergoing flight test and evaluation at NAS Patuxent River, Md., and Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., as aircraft are delivered to the fleet.

Credit Video: Joint Program Office