The F-35 Integrated Test Force expanded their aircraft inventory Mar. 5 with the arrival of BF-17, which is the short takeoff and vertical landing variant of the F-35 Lightning II and is operated by the Marine Corps.
The aircraft arrived from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., and will remain at Edwards to conduct mission system testing throughout the System Development and Demonstration phase. Testing at Edwards will play a critical role in reaching the 2014 initial operational capability for the Marines.
“Edwards is home for mission systems testing on the F-35. BF-17 adds a different element to our missions fleet. The STOVL variant has some unique features and requires different maintenance and support equipment. You also fly the aircraft differently. We’re excited to have the aircraft here, where it will stay until the end of the testing when we give it back to the Marine Corps,” said Brian O’Melia, BF-17 lead flight test engineer.
While the F-35B undergoes mission systems testing, the F-35 ITF does not anticipate utilizing the aircraft’s STOVL capability during normal flight operations. However, a landing pad was built between the runway and Taxiway B in case the aircraft experiences an in-flight emergency.
During the aircraft’s time at Edwards, Air Force pilots will also have the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the F-35B and expand their knowledge base of the fifth-generation fighter.
“This is a great opportunity to get Air Force pilots trained on the B-model differences. It’s great to have multiple variants of the F-35 here because the test pilots get broad experience that will help them throughout their careers with new unfamiliar aircraft. We want them to have as much experience as possible,” said Col. Roderick L. Cregier, Edwards F-35 program manager.
After the long-awaited arrival of BF-17, the F-35 ITF is fully prepared to begin testing with modifications to the aircraft are currently underway.
“We have been preparing for a long time and the arrival of BF-17 will allow us to increase testing for the JSF Program Office. The aircraft was scheduled to arrive in January so we’re excited to now integrate this aircraft into our test fleet. We have started modifications to make it the first F-35B model to fly with Block 2B software, so the team is already taking great advantage of the aircraft,” said Lt. Col. George Schwartz, Edwards Government ITF director.
With the successful arrival of BF-17, the F-35 ITF looks forward to testing an additional variant of F-35 and eventually welcoming a third with the Navy’s C-model, carrier variant.
“For us, it’s also significant to have two F-35 variants here and we look forward to eventually having the C-model here as well. Our team is fully integrated with members from the Air Force, Navy, and USMC, along with eight partner countries and this level of joint testing is unprecedented,” said Schwartz.
“We will eventually be conducting mission systems testing on all three F-35 variants. Members of the ITF are making an enormous contribution to the warfighting capabilities for the U.S. services and eight allies that ultimately provide the combat capability for 2,500 aircraft. This is a great place to be.”