The US Air Force's (USAF) F-35A Lightning II conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft has successfully completed its first in-flight refuelling mission while configured with external weapons.
During the two-hour mission conducted at Edwards Air Force Base (EFB) in California, US, the test aircraft, also designated AF-4 carried two external inert AIM-9X sidewinder air-to-air missiles and four external stores.
Piloted by the USAF's test pilot lieutenant colonel George Schwartz, the aircraft also carried two Joint Direct Attack Munitions and two Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles internally.
The mission validated the flying qualities of the aircraft while manoeuvring with external weapons, and paves the way for weapons separation testing, expected to be conducted in late 2012.
F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II aircraft is a stealthy, supersonic multi-role fighter, currently under development by Lockheed Martin, and has been undergoing flight tests since late 2006.
The aircraft combines advanced stealth technology with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations, advanced sustainment and lower operational and support costs.
The fifth generation fighter is designed to carry up to 18,000lbs of weaponry on ten weapon stations, and is primarily intended to replace the USAF's existing F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10 Thunderbolt II fleet.
The F-35A completed night flight and external missiles testing in January and February 2011, and is scheduled to undergo formation test flights in late 2012.
Lockheed is also developing an additional two variants of the aircraft including a carrier variant (CV) for the US Navy and a short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft for the US Marine Corps and the UK Royal Navy.
Apart from being principally financed by the US, the JSF programme receives additional funding from the UK and seven international partners, namely Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.
Image: An F-35A Lightning II carrying external weapons is being refuelled by a tanker aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base in California, US. Photo: Lockheed Martin.