7:31 PM

A New Generation Dawns

At the Fort Worth facility of Lockheed Martin this coming week, military aviation history is about to be made when the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Force fighter takes flight.

This past Thursday afternoon, after final ground systems were checked, the F-35 moved under its own power for the first time for low speed taxi tests and testing of the brakes and nosewheel steering in advance of next week’s highly anticipated first flight. Taxi tests will increase in speed to 80 knots before the Lightning II rockets skyward for its inaugural flight.

And oh what a flight it will be:

The F-35 Lightning II is powered by the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan, the most powerful engine ever installed in a fighter aircraft, producing a top speed of Mach 1.8 (1,370 mph). The stealthy F-35 is designed to replace a wide range of existing aircraft, including AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s, F/A-18 Hornets and United Kingdom Harrier GR.7s and Sea Harriers.
The JSF program is slated to produce a total of 2,593 F-35 aircraft for the United States' and United Kingdom's armed forces. Three variants will be built, including the F-35 A (Conventional Takeoff and Landing), the F-35 B (Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing ) and F-35 C (Carrier-based). Delivery of the aircraft is scheduled to begin in 2009.

Each one of us aviators has our niche that we watch, and mine is GA and business aviation – I never spend much time thinking about the next great fighter jet. But in reading the Lockheed Martin brochure (download it here) on the F-35, it becomes clear that this is one bad-ass flying machine.

The USA has had air superiority on this planet for generations, and nobody else in the world can touch us in a wartime sky. With the F-35 locked and loaded, it will add another highly effective element to our nation’s strategic defense system.

But as things go south by the day in Iraq, I sincerely hope that the leaders of our country use such a lethal airworthy killing machine as the F-35 to keep our borders secure and our children safe, instead of as an offensive tool to shove some future President’s agenda down the throat of another third world country who has no viable means of defending themselves, but does have lots of oil under their caves.

Then again, I wonder if Osama could get his hands on a jet that could actually fly. If so, I'd spring for pay-per-view to watch that dogfight as the F-35 ships a thousand pounds of attitude up his tailpipe.

Update #1 12/11 930A: You might think that all details are set in stone between the United States and the United Kingdom regarding the U.K’s purchase of 138 JSF fighters, but you’d be wrong. This article in the Financial Times reveals a serious rift on both sides of the Pond, and it needs to be resolved ASAP:
Britain must seek an alternative to buying the Joint Strike Fighter if the US does not agree to share sensitive technology on the USD $276 billion project by the end of the year, the parliamentary defense committee warns today.
Lord Drayson, U.K. defense procurement minister has scheduled a visit to Washington next week in an attempt to break the deadlock and help the Brits decide if they are going with their “Plan A” to buy the JSF fighters, or “Plan B” which is still “undisclosed” according to the article. Sounds like a very high stakes game of jet fighter poker to me.

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