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08 July 2016

Lockheed Martin Summarises Recent and Future F-35 Testing Achievements and Goals

The F-35 programme is growing and accelerating; we have now put 60,000 flight hours on the F-35   against the 27,000 hours of two years ago,” Jeff Babione, executive vice president and general manager of the overall Lockheed Martin F-35 programme, said. “We are also on the first Performance Based Logistics contract this year centred on all three variants of the aircraft; but specifically on the F-35B model. The target for aircraft availability is around 50% and mission effectiveness 75%, although we are actually currently running around 85-90% on effectiveness.” Effectiveness being based on the pilot’s report about whether they complete the mission.

Jeff Babione, executive vice president and general manager of the overall Lockheed Martin F-35 programme at RIAT 2016 explained that the F-35 programme is growing and accelerating. 

Aircraft availability means how many are available to operate on a daily basis and that number is decremented by the number that is in the depot; the target is 50%. At the moment there are a significant number of aircraft in the depot - some of the LRIP models than need modifications,” he said that looking at US Navy F-18s, the aircraft is available is low at between 35-50% as a significant number of F-18s are undertaking modifications.

Referring to the deployment of seven F-35As in early June from Hill Air Force Base (AFB) to Mountain Home AFB in Idaho to test their readiness, Babione stated: “They flew for a week and a half; they attempted 88 sorties and completed them all. The dropped 12 GBU bombs, all but one of which hit the target. The aircraft reliability is increasing significantly as we finish STD and those newer LRIP 7 and 8 jets have anywhere from 30-50% higher reliability than the earlier jets.”

Babione continued stating that the total aircraft reliability across the F-35 fleet is around 55-60% on any given day, with higher figures being recorded at bases such as Elgin AFB (75%). Mean time between failure for the LRIP 2,3 and 4 aircraft was around 3.5/4 hours flight time between maintenance, whereas LRIP 6 and 7 was now at around seven hours between failures. He said that compared to the F-16 it was now significantly better due to the significant advances in technology and electronics that have got more reliable in time. “You can trace the improvements in reliability through software improvements and reliability,” he confirmed.

We have a tremendous amount of data on each problem; mean time between failure is mainly down to hardware.” He added that the mean time between software failure usually comes down to a reset requirement.

RAF Eurofighter TYPHOONs Welcome USMC F-35 Bs to the UK.

On the subject of the UK’s Brexit decision, Babione said that BAE Systems accounted for around 10% of the aircraft by price of the airplane. For the UK around 15% would be the figure including the Martin Baker ejection seat. “It is too early to quantify the impact of Brexit; much of this lies ahead of us. I don’t see any significant impact in the near term, but it is too early.”

Regarding the System Development and Demonstration (SDD), Babione said that Lockheed Martin had around 18 months to go to finish by the end of 2017. “This year most of the work is weapons integration and software development. We are preparing for a weapons surge in August and September where we are going to quickly moved through qualification and certification of a broad arrange of weapons for F-35. We need range time to maximise weapons testing.”

On software, we have almost finished 3F software which is flying at Edwards and Pax so we will have a final version by the end of the year. In 2017 the flight test programme begins to wind down and we finish the reports and certification. So we take all of that data gathered over the years and determine what we can strength, summary and operator restrictions - basically how do you use an F-35.

He said that the structural simulation testing would also be completed. “We finish the structural testing of the three variants. We apply external forces to simulate it flying for 30 years and we do that twice. We test it for 16,000 hours - the equivalent of two service lifetimes. The F-35A has already finished and the F-35B/Cs will finish during the next year. We then will release maintenance manuals so maintainers know what to look for during the lifetime.”

For more on the F-35, please see MT's Combat Aircraft Special published in MT 6/2016, available at Farnborough 2016.

Andrew Drwiega, Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), UK