F-35A releases B61-12 JTAs during first full weapon system demonstration
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F-35A releases B61-12 JTAs during first full weapon system demonstration

07 Oct 2021 (Last Updated October 7th, 2021 12:35)

It marks the completion of the nuclear design certification process’ final flight test exercise.

F-35A releases B61-12 JTAs during first full weapon system demonstration
An F-35A Lighting II carrying a B61-12 Joint Test Assembly sits on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, US. Credit: USAF / Airman 1st Class Zachary Rufus.

The US Air Force (USAF) F-35A Lightning II aircraft has released B61-12 joint test assemblies (JTAs) during the first full-weapon system demonstration.

During the demonstration, test pilots flew to the Tonopah Test Range. From this range, the pilots released two B61-12 JTAs from operationally realistic flight envelopes.

According to USAF, the event was the first release of the B61-12 test asset from an F-35A.

With this demonstration, F-35A completes the final flight test exercise of the nuclear design certification process.

Air Combat Command’s portion of the test effort was led by the 422nd and 59th Test and Evaluation Squadrons (TES).

The rest of the maintenance efforts were led by airmen from the 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 926th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and Bolt Aircraft Maintenance Unit (AMU).

ACC Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration division chief lieutenant colonel Daniel Jackson said: “The B61 series weapons are tactical gravity nuclear weapons that can be used on Dual Capable Aircraft like the F-15E (Strike Eagle) and F-16C/D (Fighting Falcon).

“Having a 5th Generation DCA fighter aircraft with this capability brings an entirely new strategic-level capability that strengthens our nation’s nuclear deterrence mission.”

The nuclear certification is divided into two phases, with the first phase that includes nuclear design certification while the second is the nuclear operational certification.

The latest flight test is considered the graduation flight test exercise for the F-35A nuclear design certification.

It is the conclusion of on-aircraft testing for the effort of initial nuclear certification.

The Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Energy (DoE) have the test data for review. This review and analysis will ensure the F-35A and B61-12 JTAs performed correctly in all the operational phases.

F-35A is one of the three variants of F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF). F-35B, a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft, and F-35C, a carrier variant (CV), are the other two variants.