F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF)
The F-35 family tree branches into three distinct variants. The conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A will replace F-16s and A-10s in the US Air Force. It will complement the F/A-22 Raptor air-dominance fighter as a nine-G-rated aircraft with an internal 25 mm gun mounted on the left intake shoulder and a combat radius of more than 600 nautical miles (NM). This model- and all F-35 variants- will have two internal weapons bays, each capable of carrying a 2,000-pound precision-guided munition and a radar-guided AIM-120 air-to-air missile.
The F-35A for the U.S. Air Force matches or exceeds F-16 performance levels and goes several steps beyond with stealth, increased range on internal fuel, and advanced avionics. Operational effectiveness, supportability, and survivability are greatly enhanced as a result. Like the F-16, the F-35A has an internal gun and a refueling receptacle on top of the fuselage behind the canopy. Unlike the U.S. Air Force F-16, the aircraft is stealthy, enabling first-look, first-shot capability. It also has an internal laser designator and infrared sensors. Maneuverability characteristics are similar to those of the F-16, with comparable instantaneous and sustained 'High-G" performance. The F-35A's range and payload are greatly improved as well. The aircraft meets or exceeds all of the known service guidelines for flight performance.
Conflicts in recent years have clearly demonstrated the desirability of longer combat radius (or longer time on station). The F-35 will dramatically increase its user's ability to support combat operations at longer ranges due to its tremendous internal fuel capacity and single-engine design. For example, the CTOL F-35A carries more than 18,000 pounds of internal fuel- more than two-and-one-half times the internal fuel capacity of the legacy multirole fighters it will replace. Likewise, the advantage in range more than doubles. The F-35 is not limited to internal fuel only; it can carry 600-gallon external drop tanks for ferry flights or for missions that do not require a stealthy signature.
The Air Force JSF variant poses the smallest relative engineering challenge. The aircraft has no hover criteria to satisfy. And the characteristics and handling qualities associated with carrier operations like catapult launches, control authority at approach speeds and beefed up structure to handle arrested landingsdo not come into play. On the other hand, the Air Force airplane will be measured against the high standards set by the F-16. As the biggest customer for the JSF, the service will not accept a multirole fighter replacement that doesn't significantly improve on the original. With the largest planned purchase, the USAF aircraft is also the program's affordability driver.
Lockheed Martin's design for the Air Force variant matches or exceeds F-16 performance levels and goes several steps beyond with more stealth, increased range on internal fuel, and advanced avionics. Operational effectiveness, supportability and survivability are greatly enhanced as a result.
Like the F-16, the Air Force JSF variant has an internal gun and a refueling receptacle on top of the fuselage behind the canopy. Unlike the USAF F-16, the aircraft carries an extensive array of electronic countermeasures internally. It also has an internal laser designator and infrared sensors. Information from the JSF's sensors is fused, or sorted out, before being sent to the helmet-mounted or head-down displays. The airplane also has an advanced electronically scanned array radar. Maneuverability characteristics are on a level with the F-16, with comparable instantaneous and sustained high-g performance. The JSF's range and payload are improved as well. The aircraft meets or exceeds all of the known service guidelines for flight performance.
From October 2000 through August 2001, the JSF X-35 demonstrator aircraft established a number of flight-test standards. X-35A CTOL- most flights (27), most flight hours (27.4), most pilots checked out (six), fewest canceled flights (two), and highest flight rate (six-and-one-third flights/week) in the first 30 days of new-aircraft testing.
The first F-35 concept demonstrator aircraft left the runway at Air Force Plant 42, Palmdale, California at 0906 PST on 24 October 2000. The F-35A landed shortly thereafter at Edwards Air Force Base, California and began a rigorous flight test program.
On 7 November 2000, the F-35A took on fuel from a KC-135 tanker for the first time, enabling the aircraft to complete its longest flight to date: 2 hours and 50 minutes. The F-35A successfully completed its flight-test program on 22 November 2000, logging 27 flights in 30 days and achieving the first JSF supersonic flight on 21 November 2000, before it was returned to Palmdale in order to be converted to the STOVL F-35B.
As of 2004 requirements called for 1,763 aircraft, making the F-35A the most-produced variant. The Air Force was tentatively scheduled to receive its first F-35 in 2008, but initial operational capability (IOC) for the service is set for 2011.
As of early 2005 there was uncertainty about the number and mix of variants the services plan to purchase will also affect JSF's acquisition plans. While the Air Force had announced its intention to acquire the short takeoff and vertical landing variant, it had yet to announce when or how many it expects to buy or how this purchase will affect the quantity of the conventional takeoff and landing variant it plans to buy. In December 2004, Air Combat Command officials indicated that the Air Force was considering buying about 250 short takeoff and landing JSFs and about 1,300 conventional takeoff and landing JSFs. However, these numbers were not official.
There were reports in early 2006 that the Air Force had an internal plan to ultimately reduce the number of joint strike fighters from 1,763 to somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200.
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