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USAF F-35A CTOL variant of F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter

Lockheed Martin has completed the first night flight testing of the US Air Force’s (USAF) F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF), at Edwards Air Force Base in California, US.

During the night flight testing, the aircraft underwent a series of basic straight in approaches in twilight and darkness, while the cockpit’s lighting system was also tested.

According to the company, the fighter will now undergo night refuelling and formation test flights in late 2012.

The F-35A Lightning II is a fifth-generation stealthy, supersonic multirole fighter primarily intended to replace the USAF’s existing F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet from 2028.

The aircraft, designated as AF-6, combines advanced stealth technology with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations, advanced sustainment and lower operational and support costs.

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The F-35A is armed with a GAU-22/A, a four-barrel version of the GAU-12 Equalizer 25mm cannon mounted internally with 182 rounds, as well as AIM-9X Sidewinder and AIM-132 ASRAAM air-to-air missiles.

The avionics suite features AN/APG-81 AESA radar, an AN/AAQ-37 distributed aperture system (DAS) missile warning system, AN/ASQ-239 (Barracuda) electronic warfare system and multifunction advanced data link (MADL) communication system.

The F-35 Lightning II JSF is also currently under development in another two variants, a carrier variant (CV) for the US Navy and a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the US Marine Corps and Royal Navy.

The USAF had originally placed an order for 34 jets, but reduced the number by three in a move to help fund cost overruns associated with retrofits on the first three orders after the Senate Armed Services Committee denied $264m in funding.

The JSF programme is principally financed by the US, with additional funding from the UK and seven international partners, namely Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

Image: Lockheed completes first night flight testing of 35A CTOL variant of the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft. Photo: Lockheed Martin.