STATUS: Active, Limited Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Lockheed Martin / Northrop Grumman / BAe Systems - USA
OPERATORS: Australia; Belgium (possible); Denmark (ordered); Israel; Italy; Japan; Netherlands; Norway (ordered); South Korea; Turkey (ordered); United Kingdom; United States
LENGTH: 50.43 feet (15.37 meters)
WIDTH: 34.94 feet (10.65 meters)
HEIGHT: 17.32 feet (5.28 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 29,002 pounds (13,155 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 70,107 pounds (31,800 kilograms)
ENGINE: 1 x Pratt & Whitney F135 F119-PW-100 turbofan developing 40,000 lb thrust with afterburner with General Electric GE F120 alternate core engine.
SPEED (MAX): 1,199 miles-per-hour (1930 kilometers-per-hour; 1,042 knots)
RANGE: 1,379 miles (2,220 kilometers; 1,199 nautical miles)
CEILING: 50,000 feet (15,240 meters; 9.47 miles)
Detailing the development and operational history of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Advanced Multi-Role Strike Fighter / Fighter-Bomber Aircraft.
Entry last updated on 10/16/2018.
Authored by Alan Daniels. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
The Lockheed F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation fighter development of the United States that incorporates new and learned stealth technology and practices with advanced computer processing and systems through a "budget-friendly" modular approach. The intended project goal (then under the name of Joint Strike Fighter) was to develop a single airframe capable of serving the multiple required roles of the primary armed services within the US Department of Defense - namely the United States Air Force (F-35A), the United States Navy (F-35C) and the United States Marine Corps (F-35B) as well as the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy services (both taking the F-35B model) of the British Ministry of Defense (MoD). The F-35 is currently being developed into three distinct airframes to reflect their respective uses with each design revolving around the same single-engine, single-seat approach. In any of the forms, the F-35 will remain a potent supersonic (Mach 1.0+ capable) fighter with lethal strike capabilities reportedly unmatched by anything else in the modern skies. While the Lockheed F-22 Raptor is intended as a fifth-generation "stealthified" air superiority fighter, the F-35's sorties will center more on the infiltration role and in dealing with accurate ground strikes through use of guided munitions and drop bombs, advanced airborne real-time reconnaissance and in radar-suppression sorties charged with the destruction of enemy "eyes-to-the-skies" - all this while retaining potent air-to-air capabilities.
If Lockheed succeeds in the design of the STOVL variant (F-35B), the Lightning II will become the first supersonic STOVL fighter ever produced. if the entire F-35 project fulfills all of its intended goals, the Lightning II will be the most advanced fighter design ever and will surely usher in a new age of powered flight.
The F-35 is intended to be an "affordable" fighter platform, hence the development of one airframe for the three distinct tasks. The aircraft is afforded a complex battlefield management system that allows it to receive and track real-time information and allow the pilot and system to react accordingly while transferring this information to other allied forces. The aircraft is said to provide for easier maintenance, especially in terms of taking care of the sensitive stealth components and skin. Throughout its design, the F-35 has incorporated an array of radar-defeating/absorbing measures that include a specialized mix of construction materials, coatings, angular edges and internally-based antenna probes to minimize profile from any direction.
Countries involved in the F-35 program (alongside the United States and United Kingdom) include Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Turkey. Each are expecting to receive operational F-35s into service at some point. Each nation is rated by partner levels in the development. The UK remains the top partner as a Level 1 contributor. Italy and the Netherlands are Level 2 partners while Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway and Denmark are Level 3 partners. Israel and Singapore have signed on as "Security Cooperative Participants" (SCP).
Planned quantities of the respective aircraft model for each country is as follows: USAF (1,763); USN/USMC (680); RAF/RN (138); Italy (131); Netherlands (85); Turkey (100); Australia (100); Norway (56, up from the original 48 as of June 2009); Denmark (48); Canada (80). Norwegian F-35s will be replacing their fleet of aging F-16 Fighting Falcons. Italian F-35s will see final assembly at Cameri Air Base. Cost estimates for individual F-35 units are as follows (FY2002): F-35A ($40 million+); F-35B ($60 million+); F-35C ($60 million+). The end price will surely be higher by 2012 dollars.
The Joint Strike Fighter Program
The Joint Strike Fighter program was started on November 16th, 1996 as a US attempt to develop a next-generation airframe capable of replacing a variety of dedicated fighter and fighter-bomber types in the US inventory. The new design would have to replace such proven performers as the Lockheed/General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Fairchild Republic A-10 Warthog, the carrier-based Boeing/McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet and the McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II (the latter also covering the British Harrier developments in the Harrier GR.Mk 7 and GR.Mk 9). No small task considering the respective successes found by each aircraft throughout the world.
Replacing the Cold War Heavy-Hitters
The General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon had proven itself in countless conflicts beginning with actions in the Middle East by 1981. The F-16 was a lightweight aircraft equally capable of air superiority and ground strike. It maintained a healthy capability of mounting a variety of munitions to suit the many field requirements in regards to target type. This multi-faceted performer went on to become a staple of US allies from South America to the Middle East and Europe to the Pacific. As of this writing, production numbers of this aircraft have already surpassed 4,400 examples - the first being introduced in 1978.
The Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt was a highly unique aircraft charged with the destruction of enemy armor at low-speed and low-altitudes. The system was built for survival at these low-levels and, therefore, was in some ways manufactured as a "flying tank" complete with cockpit armoring, elevated engine nacelles (to protect each engine from ground fire) and the ability to withstand a good deal of battlefield punishment. The aircraft could stay afloat with one engine completely blown away from the fuselage. Beyond the capability to carry a large ordnance load of missiles (air-to-air and air-to-ground) and bombs (conventional and guided), the A-10 was most noteworthy for her nose-mounted, 7-barreled 30mm Avenger Gatling cannon. The A-10 was debuted in 1977 and produced in 715 examples including a two-seat Forward Air Control (FAC) version.
The F/A-18 Hornet was derived from the YF-17 "Cobra" demonstrator, a design that lost out to the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon to become the USAFs next lightweight fighter. The US Navy, however, found interest in the aircraft and the revised (and larger) F/A-18 Hornet was selected to replace the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder and A-7 Corsair II on all US carriers. The system was a multi-role performer at heart, capable of taking on the air superiority role of the Tomcat while providing the capability to tackle the strike roles of the Intruder and Corsair IIs before it. The F/A-18 Hornet has since proven a successful addition since its inception into service in early 1983 and has been evolved into the two-seat ultra-capable F/A-18E/F "Super Hornet".
The McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II (and its British counterparts the GR.7 and GR.9) were modernized versions of the original Hawker Siddeley Harrier VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) multi-role, close-support "jump jets". The AV-8B was developed for the Marine Corps "going it alone" while the British pursued other interests, eventually coming back to the program and becoming a junior partner. The history of the Harrier made it one of the most dangerous and complicated aircraft to fly but also made it one of the most unique battlefield components - with jet fighter-like performance wrapped around helicopter-like capabilities.
It was this impressive stable of Cold War developments that the Joint Strike Fighter project sought to replace.
The F-35 was the aircraft born out of the US Joint Strike Fighter program. For the next five years, Boeing's X-32 faced off against Lockheed's X-35 (Northrop Grumman/McDonnell Douglas was another program contended). The program required the construction of two Concept Demonstration Aircraft (CDA). Computers were used in predicting the data garnered from the CDA aircraft and the final decision was capped by pages of proposals with promises detailing the aircraft maintenance requirements and construction needs. The winner of the program was eventually decided on October 26th, 2001.
Though both aircraft seemed to fit the requirements, the Lockheed submittal was selected ahead of Boeing's in that it consistently bested the Boeing design enough to earn the victory and was seen as a "lesser" financial risk in the long run. The X-32 also used a more conventional "vectored-thrust" approach, similar to that as employed in the Harrier, to complete its vertical and take-off approaches. The Northrop Grumman/McDonnell Douglas design employed an interesting Lift-Plus-Lift/Cruise methodology similar to that as found on the Soviet Yakovlev Yak-38 "Forger". The Lockheed team settled on a dedicated lift-fan system positioned just aft of the cockpit as well as a rotating rear engine exhaust nozzle to accomplish the same balanced result - with both propulsion units deriving lift power from the main engine. Lockheed's patented lift fan, though a new and untested, was deemed a more reasonable long-term approach. The lift-fan concept held some distinct advantages that the X-32's thrust vectoring system did not - primarily, the lift fan offered cooling for the downward-thrusted air, meaning that the chance of hot exhaust gasses re-entering the engine was minimized. Additionally, the space required for the lift-fan drive system was a benefit to the X-35A and X-35C designs as in more internal fuel. Since the USMC was more interested in a short-range, quick-react aircraft to begin with, range was a limitation that could be overlooked on the STOVL version of the X-35.
The designation of "F-35" was appointed to the new Lockheed production design.
Securing the X-35 contract for Lockheed was no small feat and there was plenty of finance at stake. With all options exercised, the X-35 program (and subsequent F-35 production) could net the firm some $200 billion dollars. Engine maker Pratt & Whitney was also onboard, receiving a $4 billion dollar contract for its part in the powerplant development and production. Not content to side idle, the British stepped in and invested $2 billion of their own money into the project, with the hopes of securing their first 5th generation - and first stealth - fighter.
The project also included major contributions from Northrop Grumman and British Aerospace (BAe).
The production F-35s were born out of three prototypes - the first being the X-35A produced out of the Skunk Works facility at Palmdale. The X-35A completed its first flight on October 24th, 2000, and was then transferred to Edwards Air Force Base for its rigorous trials including in-flight refueling runs and beyond the speed-of-sound flights. After 27 flight tests concluded on November 22nd, 2000, the vehicle was delivered back to Palmdale for conversion into the X-35B STOVL variant prototype. X-35C actually became the second aircraft constructed while the X-35A-X-35B conversion was taking place. Serving as a "back up" to the more complicated X-35B development, the X-35C was actually made ready to accept the lift-fan assembly should the X-35B find itself lost to accident or some other major complication. The first production F-35 Lightning II achieved first flight on December 15th, 2006. The first F-35A wrapped up flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base on October 23rd, 2008. Supersonic flight was achieved soon after on November 13th, 2008.
X-35B achieved first flight on June 24th, 2001, and accomplished a complete sustained hover cycle. In the end, the prototype accounted for 18 vertical take-off operations and no less than 27 hover landings. The production STOVL F-35B began its flight testing phase in 2008. The first F-35B (STOVL variant) achieved first flight on June 11th, 2008. The second F-35B known as BF-2 completed its first flight on February 25th, 2009 and its first aerial refueling exercise via probe and drogue on August 13th, 2009.
The carrier X-35C went airborne for the first time on December 16th, 2000. The X-35C then underwent a series of rigorous mock carrier landings to test out the validity of the modified airframe. The X-35C proved a pleasant beast to fly and excelled in the low-level, low-speed approaches the US Navy was looking for in their new aircraft. The X-35C completed testing by way of 73 total flights on March 11th, 2001. The production F-35C (USN variant) was revealed on July 28th, 2009 with an expected first flight some time during the remainder of 2009. The F-35 test program completed its 100th flight on June 23rd, 2009.
Per Lockheed, the F-35B for the USMC is expected to be delivered sometime in 2012 - the earliest of the three variants. The USAF is expected to take on deliveries of its F-35As sometime in 2013. The US Navy's F-35Cs are expected to be delivered in 2015. In the end, the lifespan of the airframe is estimated to last past the year 2030, perhaps even closer to 2040.
The F-35 features an Electro-Optical Distributed Aperture System (DAS) that will simultaneously inform the pilot of the battlefield situation from every angle of his aircraft. The aircraft will be able to single out and coordinate enemy aircraft in the sky as well as air-to-air and surface-to-air missile launches directed against the F-35. Explosions on the ground will also signal detection within the aircraft. Levels of automation has been implemented in the both the STOVL and conventional landing variants to help ease workflow. The aircraft will also supply enhanced pilot vision for both day and night sorties. The system was developed by Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control with Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems.
Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control and Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems has also geared up to provide the F-35 pilot with an all-new Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS). The EOTS is set to supply the F-35 pilot and his mount with the ability to detect and track targets from greater ranges out with a high level of accuracy. This will make the Lightning II one of the most - if not the most - deadly fighter ever to take the skies. The EOTS system is fitted to the underside portion of the nose assembly.
Stealth lessons learned since the flying days of Lockheed's F-117 Nighthawk have been evolved to a high degree in the F-35 Lightning II. The engine nozzle has been developed as a "stealth-friendly" axisymmetric component to further the aircraft's anti-radar characteristics while maintaining the smallest possible signature and overall profile.
Northrop Grumman Space Technology was charged with producing the modular F-35 avionics suite. Data sharing for the F-35 pilot will allow him to relay information to air- and ground-based allies as needed. The Lightning II will be setup with a satellite datalink allowing for Beyond-Line-of-Site (BLOS) communications as well as web-enabled logistical support. The communications suite was developed with the program's foreign partners to ensure a robust and adaptable system between each country's unique production aircraft.
The Lightning II will be fitted with a multi-mission AN/APG-81 series Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system developed by Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems. The system will reportedly supply the F-35 pilot with an added level of situational awareness never seen in a fighter cockpit before as well as be able to detect, track and engage targets on land or in the air at far-reaching ranges than previously available. The radar can be set to act as a passive radar receiver.
The Distributed Infra-Red System (DIRS) is a collection of six internal sensors mounted about the aircraft airframe. What these infra-red implements do is provide an image of the aircraft's surroundings directly into the highly-advanced helmet donned by the pilot. This technology will allow the pilot to "see through" his aircraft at the world around him in infra-red, providing full 360-degree situational awareness.
The inlets of the F-35 have been made as diverterless fixtures. This approach has helped in producing a lighter overall assembly with no moving parts compared to the complex arrangements as found on conventional modern aircraft. These intakes are identifiable by their bulge along the fuselage side to spill off turbulent boundary layer air that builds up along the sides of the intake lips.
A Helmet Mounted Display System (HMDS) has found its way into the F-35. Developed by Vision Systems International LLC, the new helmet is billed to be the most advanced such system ever devised. The helmet will negate the need for the cockpit to fit a conventional Heads-Up Display (HUD) system and instead deliver critical mission and systems information directly to the helmet visor. The aircraft need not even be facing the target to track and engage it thanks to this special setup. The cockpit will be dominated by a single large 8"x20" panoramic Multi-Function Display System (MFDS) fitted across the top of the instrument panel. The projection display will be powered by fast processing capabilities and relay real-time information and high-resolution motion imagery to the F-35 pilot. The cockpit will also support Direct Voice Input through a speech recognition system and be fitted with a Martin-Baker US16E ejection seat (becoming common across all three F-35 production variants). Flight control will be through a conventional HOTAS setup with a left-side throttle and a right-side flight stick. Adaptability of the onboard systems is key and, as such, is highly-configurable to the mission at hand - be it air superiority or ground strike.
Primary propulsion for the F-35 is supplied by the Pratt & Whitney F135 turbofan series. A second powerplant - the upgraded F136 - is also being developed but this under a joint General Electric and Rolls-Royce branding. The F135 is an afterburning turbofan system delivering 25,000lbf on dry thrust with up to 42,000lbf on full afterburner. The engine resides within the middle and rear portion of the fuselage. Performance results have netted the F-35 a top speed of Mach 1.67 and a ceiling of up to 60,000 feet. The rate-of-climb remains classified as of this writing. G-limits vary based on variant model with the A-model receiving a 9g limit rating, the B- and C-models with a 7.5g-limit rating. Recent cost cuts have threatened the future of the improved F136 engine, however, so its disbursement in production aircraft remains to be seen. The F136 was consistently appeared on the chopping block for American politicians, only to live another day.
The F-35 also makes use the Lockheed Martin-patented Shaft-Driven Lift Fan (SDLF) to achieve vertical flight. The Lockheed lift-fan of the F-35 was built by Rolls-Royce Corporation of Indiana. The entire lift-fan system is made up of the fan itself, a clutch, two Roll Posts (wing-mounted thrust nozzles for roll control) and the drive shaft connecting the lift-fan to the powerplant while also working in conjunction with the Three Bearing Swivel Module (3BSM) - that is, the thrust vectoring nozzle at the tail of the aircraft. The lift-fan is powered by a two-stage turbine on the engine and works in conjunction with the downward vectored rear exhaust port and Rolls Posts to achieved a balanced lift cycle. The lift fan can generate up to 20,000lb of lift (almost half of the vertical flight thrust), also providing cooling for downdrafting air compared to previous STOVL offerings. Air flow through the fan is controlled via variable inlet guide vanes.
The Variants - Beginning with the Base F-35A
The F-35 is being developed into three distinct variants for their respective operators. This should go on to prove a cost-cutting gesture as parts commonality is said to be somewhere near 80% across all three airframe types. The avionics suite is said to be near 100% common across the three airframes. Some parts used in the construction also closely resemble others and are referred to as "cousins" in commonality. The program has also stressed that the current F-35 build will be more easily upgradable than previous mounts as new technology comes online, again helping to drive down long term costs of operating, maintaining and upgrading the machine.
The F-35A is the conventional take-off and landing variant, or "CTOL", primarily for use with the United States Air Force but also representing the base export model. The F-35B will be a Short-Take-Off and Vertical Landing variant (STOVL) primarily for the United States Marine Corps and Royal Air Force and Royal Navy while the F-35C will become a conventional yet navalized form for use on aircraft carriers - this known s CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take-Off But Arrested Recovery) - solely for use by the United States Navy.
The F-35A will feature an unrefueled range of 1,200 miles without external fuel tanks. The system will be armed with the standard internal 25mm GAU-22/A cannon. All munitions options will be primarily held in internal weapons bays that can house both air-to-air or air-to-surface ordnance or a mix of both. Air superiority armament will center around a pair of AIM-120C AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles. Ground attack support will be made up of a pair of 2,000lb GBU-31 JDAM guided bombs with support for the carrying of up to 8 x GBU-38 bombs as well as current generation TV/laser-guided air-to-surface missiles, guided bombs and munitions dispensing bombs. External weapons pylons will be optional and fitted for sorties where stealth is not a mission requirement. Overall munitions-carrying capability will be limited to 18,000lb of ordnance. The F-35A features a wing span of 35 feet with an overall length of 50.5 feet and a wing area of 460 square feet. Internal fuel is listed at 18,498lb.
The STOVL F-35B
The F-35B is noted as the first aircraft of its kind to successfully combine the benefits of stealth technology with the benefits of STOVL capabilities. This will make the F-35B unique amongst any aircraft in history and allow the fighter to land and take-off from virtually any surface on the planet including moving naval ships and unprepared rough airfields and roads. This will further allow the F-35 to operate close to the front lines and deliver its potent payload against entrenched or advancing enemy forces with little limitation in operational range. Inherent range of this F-35 variant is reported from Lockheed to be around 900 miles on internal fuel stores alone. Standard armament will center around a pair of AIM-120C AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missiles for self-defense. Ground strikes will be amplified by the carrying of 2 x 1,000lb GBU-32 JDAM guided bombs. Like the F-35A, the F-35B will make use of internal bomb bays for ordnance. Additional munitions options will include air-to-surface missiles, munitions dispensers, 6 x GBU-38 bombs and guided bombs. The 25mm GAU-22A Gatling cannon will be fitted into an external pod that will itself feature "stealth" capabilities to maintain the aircraft's low-profile signature. As in the F-35A, the F-35B can also make use of optional underwing external hardpoints to expand upon its mission lethality. Overall munitions-carrying capability will be limited to 15,000lb of ordnance.
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II (Cont'd)
Advanced Multi-Role Strike Fighter / Fighter-Bomber Aircraft
The F-35B is the most unique of the three F-35s. It incorporates the lift fan system, this positioned just aft of the cockpit. The fan is put into action when the pilot sets the aircraft into vertical flight mode for either take-off, hover or landing flight actions. The lift-fan works in conjunction with the positional aft thruster duct which itself is positioned at a downwards angle provide upwards thrust when in the vertical. The lift-fan acts as a counter-balance for the power emitted from the rear jet exhaust while also supplying cooler air into the hot jet wash being generated by the engine nozzle. The engine powers the lift fan via a drive shaft from the front of the engine. Twin Roll Posts control balance and rolling in much the same way the Harrier's vertical flight "puffer" jets worked through its ducted wings and fuselage points. The lift fan is seen in operation when a pair of dorsal and ventral doors are opened. Another set of panels just aft of the lift fan is also opened to provide the needed mass flow to the auxiliary engine. Many moving parts are required to work in unison for the F-35B so it will be interesting to see how the aircraft fends once in operational service. The primary customer of the F-35B is intended to be the USMC, Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and the Italian Navy. The Royal Air Force and Royal Navy have had much success and experience in the fielding of their Cold War-era Harrier jump jets.
The F-35B features a wingspan of 35 feet, a fuselage length of 50.5 feet and a wing area of 460 square feet. Internal fuel is listed at 13,326lb. It is reported that Lockheed consulted with people at the Russian Yakovlev aircraft firm and purchased some relatable data during the development of the F-35B. Yakovlev had some experience with developing STOVL flight in their limited-production Yak-38 "Forger" for the Soviet Navy and the experimental Yak-141 "Freestyle", also meant for the Soviet Navy.
The Navalized F-35C
The navalized F-35C will become the US Navy's first stealth aircraft when it is inducted into operational service. Past attempts at such an aircraft have come up fruitless (as in the McDonnell Douglas/General Dynamics A-12 Avenger II and the Rockwell XFV-12). As a navalized version of the base F-35, the F-35C will be launched via steam catapults already serving 4th Generation fighter aircraft such as the F/A-18 Hornet. Retrieval will be via conventional arrestor hook-and-wire fielded across the carrier deck. The F-35C will sport a revised and reinforced undercarriage and internal structure for the rigors of carrier operations as well as a larger control surfaces for better low-speed, low-level performance). Folding wings also differentiate this model from the other two F-35s and serve to decrease valuable storage space on America's carriers. Range is expected to be about 1,200 miles on internal fuel alone. Like the other F-35s in the series, the F-35C will also make use of the AIM-120 AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missile as well as 2 x 2,000lb GBU-31 JDAM guided bombs. 8 x GBU-38 bombs will also be a part of this Lightning II's forte and all ordnance will be stowed within internal bomb bays. Additional armament will include current air-to-surface guided missiles, conventional bombs, munitions dispensers and guided bombs. Munitions-carrying capability will be limited to 18,000lb of ordnance. Like the F-35B, the F-35C will also mount its 25mm GAU-22A series cannon in an external pod fitting. Measurements of the F-35C include a span of 43 feet, a length of 50.8 feet and a wing area of 620 square feet. Internal fuel is listed at 19,624lb.
At the time of this writing, the US Navy will be the sole operator of the F-35C variant. It remains to be seen whether this variant will be made available for export to other navies as very few actually operate the large-surface carriers today. Nations such as the UK and Italy usually operate smaller, less-expensive conventional types, capable of fielding the STOVL version of the F-35 instead, as they did with their previous Harriers.
Though the F-35 retains much of the same design philosophy and outward appearance of Lockheed's other 5th generation product (the F-22 Raptor) it is a wholly individual design. It is a smaller and somewhat slower design (less than Mach 2-capable) fitting a single Pratt & Whitney engine though it is refined for the ground strike role comparable to the F/A-18 Hornet and the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The fuselage features angular sharply-tapered edges. The cockpit is situated behind a short nose assembly housing the radar and interestingly sports a forward-hinged two-piece canopy. Seating is for one pilot and no HUDs system tops the forward instrument panel. Intakes are fitted to either side of the fuselage and are slanted to help promote a lesser intrusive forward and side signature. Wings are large-area, high-mounted assemblies with greater sweep along their leading edge and less sweep along the trailing edge. Wings are clipped at the tips and set at about the middle of the airframe. The split intakes feed the single engine housed in the bowels of the fuselage. The jet pipe ends in a single exhaust ring positioned aft. The empennage consists of a pair of outward-angled vertical tail fins with clipped wingtips while the horizontal planes (also clipped at the tips) are fitted at and well past the exhaust ring, giving the F-35 a very unique top-down/bottom-up profile. The undercarriage is retractable and made up of two main single-wheeled landing gear legs recessing into the fuselage sides and a single-wheeled nose landing gear leg recessing forwards under the cockpit floor. Another defining characteristic of the F-35 is the lack of conventional probes and vanes (with the exception of the nose-mounted one), these being held internally to help promote stealth.
Standard armament for the F-35A will be the GAU-22/A four-barrel 25mm cannon with 180 rounds afforded to the system. The F-35B and F-35C will both feature this same cannon but in an externally-mounted pod and with 220 rounds for the gun. The pod will feature stealth capabilities to not expand the signature of the F-35 airframe. To comply with its stealth requirements, the F-35 will primarily house its ordnance in internal bomb bays. Six optional external underwing pylons will provide the bulk of the weapons payload carrying capability (three stations to a wing with the outboard-most stations reserved for the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile). With the F-35 being more-or-less an international development effort, attention has also been given to making the Lightning II capable with the latest (and some upcoming) munitions available in the UK and NATO arsenals.
The F-35 Lightning II is the spiritual successor to the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The P-38 was a memorable ace-making, twin-boom propeller-driven design seeing combat action in World War 2 across Europe and the Pacific. It is reportedly twice as load as a McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-15 Eagle at take-off and double that noise during landing actions. Anyone that has heard the F-15 knows just how load the double engine setup can be. However, Lockheed was quick to state that the new F-35 is no more louder than the F-16. This remains to be seen (and heard).
The Indian Air Force may be a potential future F-35 user as might the Indian Navy (for the F-35B). It is though that a Lockheed sale of the F-35 to India is tied to a contingency of India purchasing some F-16 Fighting Falcons first (Lockheed no owns the General Dynamics F-16 brand). Other possible operators may someday be Finland, Brazil, Spain, Greece and South Korea. The US has refused sale to Taiwan for obvious Chinese-related political reasons. As a contributor, it is believed that Israel will eventually field at least 100 F-35A models to replace their aging F-16s in service.
Some potential customers have bypassed the $65 million+ cost of the F-35 Lightning II in favor of advanced 4.5th Generation fighters like the French Dassault Rafale, the Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen and the European consortium Eurofighter Typhoon - each capable aircraft in their own right.
If all of what is being reported by Lockheed, its supporters and media releases comes to pass, the F-35 Lightning II will be one exceptional fighter/fighter-bomber platform. It is intended to be leaps ahead of the competition in both air-to-air and air-to-ground roles as well as a superb reconnaissance platform when used in the role. Its stealth capabilities should prove the system highly potent and able to best most any defense in the modern world today. The costs of operating the three-in-one airframe should allow more procurement of the type in the future but this might be wishful thinking at best. It is said that the new F-35 will be cheaper to buy and maintain than the current crop of Cold War fighter-bombers in the US stable. This, however, is a hard fact to believe considering the amount of technology and resources tied to the F-35 project. If anything, such statistics and measurements are nothing more than a sales tool. Time will only tell just what kind of a platform the F-35 will truly be. And until the system is involved in some protracted conflict somewhere on the globe, its lethality will only read well on paper and online reports.
The Israeli F-35I "Adir"
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) version of the F-35 is designated as F-35I and recognized locally as the "Adir". The Israeli government received permission to integrate Israeli-centric software and weapons system into the F-35 platform to satisfy local requirements. Part of the integration is the Rafael Python-5 and Derby Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs) as well as the Litening 5 series targeting pod. The F-35I fleet built to the Israeli standard will reach operational capability by, or in, 2019.
On August 10th, 2011, it was announced that the F-35 fleet had been cleared for ground-test operations. This after delays in the program to address electrical failure concerns - concerns that have grounded the fleet twice in 2011.
On October 3rd, 2011, an F-35B (test aircraft "BF-2") completed a successful shipborne landing on the flight deck of the USS Wasp (LHD-1). A Marine Corps test pilot was at the controls. The USMC intends on replacing its aging fleet of F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harrier IIs with the arrival of the STOVL F-35B aircraft. Incidentaly, the USS Wasp also hosted the first shipborne landing of the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor helicopter during development back in 2007.
On July 19th, 2012, the first F-35 Lightning II was delivered to BAe Systems authorities in a ceremony at Fort Worth, Texas, USA. This became the first F-35 delivered to the UK or a foreign participant of the Lightning II project.
On August 8th, 2012, an F-35B STOVL (Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing) model completed a weapons drop of an inert 1,000lb JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) bomb from its internal weapons bay signaling the beginning of formal ordnance testing.
On September 9th, 2012, it was announced that the F-35 had won the Japanese F-X fighter program, intended to replace its aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II fighter fleet. Initially, Japan attempted to procure the more advanced Lockheed F-22 to which the US government denied its sale to overseas parties. This forced Japanese authorities to consider foreign options for the interim while evaluating the idea of a more expensive indigenous 5th Generation stealth fighter design for the long term. The F-35 - currently undergoing weapons delivery trials - was therefore selected over other possible candidates including the 4th Generation Eurofighter Typhoon and Boeing Super Hornet multirole fighters.
In October 2012, an F-35B completed its first in-flight refueling exercise (followed by a second) with a leading Lockheed KC-130J refueling platform. The F-35B is expected to stock the first USMC squadron in November of 2012 out of Yuma, Arizona.
On August 14th, 2013, a pair of F-35Bs began a second round of testing aboard the USS Wasp for the USMC.
In September of 2013, it was announced that The Netherlands had selected the F-35 to replace its outgoing stable of F-16 Fighting Falcons. However, the order will be for only 37 of the planned original 85 units in keeping with the available replacement program budget of $6.1 billion.
April 2014: It was announced that three F-35B models will be showcased at Royal International Air Tatoo 2014 in July, marking the first international display of the Next Generation platform. However, the appearance was cancelled shortly before the show to which an F-35B mockup was displayed instead.
In July of 2014, it was announced that the 97-strong fleet of F-35s would be grounded pending review of a pre-take-off engine fire that occurred with one example on June 23rd. The engines are from Pratt & Whitney while the incident represents yet another delay in the costly strike fighter program for the United States.
September 2014: The Norwegian government has committed to purchasing the F-35A model. Its cold weather operational use will require Norwegian F-35s to be equipped with a drag parachute for short-field landings. The government will provide the funding for development of the drag chute feature.
November 2014: An F-35C model completed the first arrested landing on an American Navy aircraft carrier - the USS Nimitz - a program milestone for the non-VTOL version of the strike fighter.
As of February 2015, some 115 Lightning II aircraft have been completed.
In early June 2015 an F-35B Lightning II had completed a successful dropping of two Raytheon "Paveway IV" bomb units intended for British service. Also a ski-jump test exercise was conducted during mid-June with success (the new generation of British aircraft carriers will utilized a ski-jump assembly for STOL capability for its F-35 fleet).
In late July 2015, it was announced that the first U.S. Marine F-35B squadron had become operational, some five years later than expected. This honor belongs to VMFA-121 who is operating ten aircraft in the Block 2B guise.
For September 2015, it was announced that the F-35A had completed refueling tests with the Italian Air Force involving a KC-767 tanker aircraft. Trials are set to begin for the Australian Air Force through a KC-30 tanker aircraft.
October 2015 - It was revealed that the F-35 underwent active trials of its 25mm internal, four-barrel cannon.
October 2015 - A change in the political leadership of Canada has signaled the end of Canadian involvement in the costly F-35 JSF program. It will seek an open competition to replace its aging stock of Boeing F/A-18 fighters in the near future with prime contenders being the French Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Swedish Saab Gripen multirole series.
December 2015 - The British intend to have some 42 F-35s in service by 2023. At least 24 of these will be showcased on its new carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. The country is still committed to procuring 138 F-35 strike fighters.
In January 2016 it was announced that the F-35 had completed its first transatlantic crossing, this by an Italian Air Force F-35 model. It was also announced that the new U.S. DoD budget allots funding for up to 404 F-35 aircraft.
In April 2016 it was announced that British squadrons have been assigned to USMC squadrons in South Carolina for F-35 training.
In April of 2016 it was announced that the Israelis will pursue a plan to incorporate indigenous software into their stock of F-35s.
In May of 2016 it was announced that Denmark has selected the F-35 as its next fighter through a 27-strong procurement deal.
June 2016: Israel received its first F-35 Lightning II example. It has increased its initial order of thirty-three aircraft by adding seventeen more.
In July of 2016 Israel announced that it would not be receiving its first F-35I model until December 2016. There is also high-ranking interest within the IAF to procure an additional seventeen units. The official rollout of the F-35I variant was had on June 22nd.
July 2016 - The Royal Air Force (RAF) is arranging its first F-35B squadron to train at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina. The squadron is expected to be settled in 2018. Similarly the USAF is working to base some 54 F-35 fighters at RAF Lakenheath backed by two squadrons of F-15E Strike Eagle platforms. The settlement date is sometime in the next decade. A total of 138 F-35 strike fighters are planned for Britain as its new Queen Elizabeth-class carriers slowly come online with the Royal Navy.
August 2016 - The F-35C, the carrier-borne variant of the Lightning II family, has entered final developmental testing aboard the USN aircraft carrier USS George Washington.
August 2016 - The USAF has declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for the F-35A variant. This followed the USMC's IOC declaration of the F-35B model back in 2015.
November 2016 - Japan has taken delivery of its first F-35 example (F-35A).
January 2017 - The first USMC F-35B has arrived for overseas deployment at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. The aircraft are tied to VMFA-121.
April 2017 - The F-35A saw its first overseas deployment on April 15th, 2017, this at RAF Lakenheath in the United Kingdom.
May 2017 - The F-35 is under consideration from the government of Germany to succeed its aging line of Panavia Tornado aircraft.
June 2017 - The initial F-35A for Japan was rolled out via ceremony on June 6th, 2017. To date, 231 F-35 aircraft have been built globally.
August 2017 - Israeli F-35I strike fighters have undergone refueling trials with a Boeing KC-707 tanker aircraft in both day and night scenarios.
September 2017 - The USAF is set to receive the first of its combat-ready F-35 Lightning II strike fighters. These will be equipped with the final version of the combat systems operating software (Block 3F).
November 2017 - The United States is in talks with its Gulf ally, the United Arab Emirates, on the sale of the F-35. The country has already signed a $1.65 billion deal with the aircraft's manufacturer, Lockheed, at the Dubai Air Show for other products and services. Saudi Arabia is also making a push to purchase the technologically-advanced strike fighter.
November 2017 - The government of Denmark has begun taking steps to complete the procurement of its F-35 strike fighters. Twenty-seven F-35A models are covered by the initial proposed investment. Ten will be purchased in 2018 with the rest to follow in 2021 and 2022 with final deliveries in 2027. Training on the new, unique fighters will be had in the United States.
December 2017 - F-35I "Adir" strike fighters of the Israeli Air Force have been declared operational as of December 6th, 2017. Nine examples are currently in inventory.
January 2018 - The United States State Department has approved the sale of F-35A aircraft to the nation of Belgium. The deal still requires congressional approval however. The country is seeking a viable replacement for its fleet of fifty-nine F-16 Fighting Falcons in their A- and B-model guises.
January 2018 - The Japanese Air Force has begun active deployment of the F-35A platform on January 26th, 2018.
February 2018 - The USAF will proceed with accelerated flight-testing of an Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (proven over the last few years in the F-16) in the F-35.
April 2018 - F-35B models have been operating with elements of the USMC in the East China Sea aboard USS Wasp (LHD-1).
April 2018 - The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) has taken delivery of its first F-35A strike fighters featuring Block 3F software. A fleet of 72 F-35A models will take over the role currently being fulfilled by Boeing F/A-18 hornet A and B strike fighters.
April 2018 - The F-35 has made its South American debut by its appearance at the International Air & Space Fair (FIDAE) in Santiago, Chile. A pair of aircraft were part of the display.
April 2018 - It was announced that the F-35 had finally completed its development flight-testing phase clearing the path to Initial Operational Testing (IOT) to begin in September of 2018. To date the series has accrued over 17,000 flying hours over 9,000 total flights.
May 2018 - Lockheed will be offering its Lightning II product for direct competition against the Eurofighter Typhoon as both vie to replace expiring German Luftwaffe Tornado strike-fighters. Ninety Tornadoes are expected to be retired from frontline service as soon as 2025.
May 2018 - It has been revealed by the IDF that its fleet of F-35 "Adir" fighters have been undertaking operational combat sorties for some time. The first aircraft was delivered in 2016 and Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was reached in 2017. Fifty F-35 Lightning IIs are on order.
June 2018 - Juen 6th, 2018 saw the arrival of four F-35B Block 3F standard variants for Britain. The group completed a transatlantic flight and refueled nine total times from an accompanying pair of Airbus A330 Voyager aerial tanker aircraft. The block standard includes support for the AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missile as well as the advanced Paveway IV series precision-guided bombs.
July 2018 - The first F-35A destined for Turkey was presented to Turkish authorities on June 21st, 2018 at the Lockheed Fort Worth, Texas facility. Elements of both the United States Senate and House of Representatives are moving to block the transfer of the technology-sensitive aircraft to Turkey.
July 2018 - The F-35 was announced as a possible successor for F-16s of the Royal Singapore Air Force. The service currently fields sixty upgraded F-16 C and D "Block 52" models. The F-16 fleet is expected to remain viable into 2030.
July 2018 - The U.S. Congress has moved to block the transfer of F-35 aircraft to Turkey for 90 days.
August 2018 - Five additional F-35s have landed on English soil on August 3rd, 2018, bringing the total number of British Lightning IIs to nine.
August 2018 - In a critical step towards active service, the F-35C model has been undergoing operational testing aboard USS Abraham Lincoln during late-August (beginning on or around August 22nd).
September 2018 - The Royal Australian Air Force has received its initial squadron-level F-35A aircraft. Previous forms were reserved for training purposes.
September 2018 - USMC F-35Bs launched from USS Essex on September 27th, 2018 conducted the first-ever American ground combat sorties with the type, this over Afghanistan.
September 2018 - In over 12 years of flying, the first-ever crash of an F-35 (an F-35B model) was recorded by a USMC near USMC Air Station Beaufort in South Carolina. The pilot ejected to safety. The crash occurred on September 28th, 2018.
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General Assessment (BETA)
Rating: 92 (of 100)
The rating is an internal assessment derived from 60 total factors pertaining to this aircraft.
Relative Maximum Speed Rating
This entry's maximum listed speed (1,199mph).
Graph average of 900 miles-per-hour.
Graph showcases the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production Comparison
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units