Lessons Learned at Pax River: The Coming of the F-35 Fleet


The F-35 is already part of the USMC combat force.  It will join the USAF later this year. And next year the F-35C will come to the carrier air wing.

In contrast to the constant barrage of chants from the Greek Chorus of program critics, the program is rapidly maturing.

The F-35 has become tactically operational in the USMC while the aircraft is undergoing developmental testing by the Pax River and Edwards AFB with an F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) for the USAF and USN .  What is not widely understood is that the ITF is managing the ongoing developmental testing for the life of the program.  After all, as the head engineer of the Pax River ITF put it: “The F-18 is still undergoing developmental testing.”

With the scope, complexity and concurrent global reach of the F-35 program, a new approach to testing was set in motion.

As Andrew Mack, the F-35 ITF chief test engineer put it:

When the F-35B Block 2B became cleared for IOC, (VMFA-121) there were many stories about what it cannot do; that really is not the point.  

The plane will evolve its capabilities over time based on spiral development.  

The point is that is a very capable combat jet at the block it has achieved already.

And the impact is immediate. —stealth from the sea is brand new for the Marine Corps and Navy.

In other words, the program is one of “spiral development” in which combat F-35 Type/Model/Series (T/M/S) airplanes emerge throughout the process to operate as effective combat assets, even while the developmental testing for all three types of F-35s continue.

PAX RIVER F-35 ITF Year in Review Montage from SldInfo.com on Vimeo.

Put bluntly, the F-35B in the hands of the Marines is a fully “up” combat aircraft  (both airframe, sensors and weapon systems) addition to the USMC Air/Ground team.

All Squadron Pilots in Marines, USAF and Navy, and in partner Air Forces will be backed up by the best test community in the world at Edwards and Pax.

This partnership forged for decades will continue a dynamic synergistic combat way for the entire life of the F-35 Global Enterprise.

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