The US Department of Defense’s (DoD) F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft has started the initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) phase.
The testing phase is being carried out by the 31st Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) from Edwards AFB, California, US.
31st TES commander lieutenant colonel Nicholas Ihde said: “The sorties consisted of seven F-35s performing both offensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defences and air attack operations. This marks an important milestone for the F-35 programme.”
Over 30 mission sorties will be conducted by the 31st TES F-35 pilots during the IOT&E phase, which will assess the complete air system and identify improvement aspects related to technical and operational areas.
About ten F-35 pilots, 145 maintainer’s and 11 engineers from the 31st TES will support the F-35 IOT&E phase.
The team will collaborate with the director of operational test and evaluation, Lockheed Martin, and the F-35 Joint Program Office to address issues that may be found during this phase.
Ihde added: “As the conduit between developmental test flights and combat missions, it is our duty to ensure this aircraft fulfils the need of the warfighter, (major command), and the American public.
“We must guarantee that we hand the combat airforce a product that has been tested with rigour and is ironed out. An advantage the 31st TES possesses is the 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.”
This phase marks an important development as its completion will allow the DoD to decide on the full-rate production while helping the US Navy to move ahead with an initial operating capability decision.
Built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, the F-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighter jet.
The fifth-generation fighter is available in three variants, including F-35B short take-off / vertical landing (STOVL), F-35C carrier, and F-35A commercial take-off and landing (CTOL).