The US Air Force 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron have kicked off F-35 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation.

The evaluation is understood to have started with a sortie of aircraft, referred to as a ‘large employment sortie’.

“The sorties consisted of seven F-35s performing both offensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses and air attack operations. This marks an important milestone for the F-35 program,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas Ihde, 31st TES commander.

During the IOT&E phase, the 31st TES F-35 pilots will fly more than 30 missions designed to fully evaluate the complete air system as well as identify technical and operational areas for improvement.

“These unique flights place the aircraft in realistic combat conditions with our joint and coalition partners to determine the operational effectiveness and suitability for the warfighter,” Ihde said in a news release.

The 31st TES has 10 F-35 pilots, 145 maintainer’s and 11 engineers to bring the F-35 programme through this phase. If they discover an issue they will work with the director of operational test and evaluation, Lockheed Martin and the F-35 Joint Program Office to address it before going out to the fleet.

“As the conduit between developmental test flights and combat missions it is our duty to ensure this aircraft fulfills the need of the warfighter, (major command), and the American public,” Ihde said.
“We must guarantee that we hand the Combat Air Force a product that has been tested with rigor and is ironed out. An advantage the 31st TES possesses is pilot experience. Most of the pilots have over 1,500 flight hours in various fighter aircraft and previous operational test backgrounds lending vast experiences fall back on and reference in order to make this jet the best it can be.” 

The completion of F-35 IOT&E will help inform full rate production of the aircraft in the future.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I thought the Americans already had some squadrons of F35s already fully operational and that they had already deployed some abroad in combat roles.

    • The US Air Force has two squadrons of F-35As that have IOC. They have been deployed several times most recently to Kadena in Okinawa. What this article refers to is a series of tests and evaluations that must be concluded successfully before the F-35A can go into full scale production. The tests are about 16 months behind schedule. But then the whole F-35 program is a text book case of how not to manage a weapons program. The US DOD can continue to turn out F-35s without these tests; they just can’t sign a contract for full scale production. That’s how screwed up the F-35 program. That doesn’t mean the airplane is a turkey.
      All three F-35 models will be included in these tests.

  2. If the RAF requires some F-35’s for deep strike missions, the MoD would need to fund adaptations to the F-35B, in time for Block 4 procurements.
    The adaptations should be removable lift-fan and drop-in fuel tank in the same space as lift-fan. Also stealth drop tanks for all F-35B’s. Extra fuel tanks for the F-35B would extend it’s range.
    The F-35B can be used conventionally by the RAF instead of STOVL. So maybe 12-24 F-35B’s could be adaptations, and the rest of the 138 committed to, are the standard F-35B’s to be used on the carriers.
    I am aware that the bomb-bay is being lengthen for Block 4 F-35B procurements.
    So the RAF need to take the decision to fund adaptations to the F-35B now.

    • Wow. I didn’t know that about block 4 bomb bay changes. That’s pretty significant isn’t it? From this article that I just got to via Google (http://www.tampabaydefensealliance.com/news/f-35b-internal-weapons-bay-cant-fit-required-load-small-diameter-bomb-iis-updated) I wonder whether a quote in the article (“There are considerations for small bay changes to support the rest of the Block 4 weapons suite. Rather than make multiple small changes, we’re planning to do one modification that will address all Block 4 requirements”) together with the last paragraph might imply that a block 4 bomb bay might also be able to take JSM.

      On fuel tanks, weren’t the Israelis talking about developing conformal tanks at one point? For the F-35A I assume so maybe the different shape at the front of the B might not make that a straightforward buy-the-Israeli-stuff thing but perhaps a B variant might be derivable off the back of the Israeli work.

    • Meiron X – interesting idea but surely it would be cheaper just to buy some ‘A’ models rather than try to create a specialised version of the ‘B’ for the few airframes you suggest.

  3. I presume, due to the mention of USAF, that this article refers to the F-35A. However it doesn’t say which model is referred to, and the photo appears to be an F-35B.

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