The first production model of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II made its inaugural flight February 25, 2011, in preparation for delivery to the U.S. Air Force this spring. The F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant – designed to meet U.S. Air Force requirements – is also the primary export version of the Lightning II. The air forces of Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and Israel will employ the F-35A.
The aircraft known as ‘AF-6’ is one of two production aircraft included in the Low-Rate Initial Production 1 (LRIP 1) batch. It is scheduled to go through flight tests in Fort Worth for about a month before it is accepted by the Air Force, heading to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., along with the second LRIP-1 AF-7, which flew its maiden flight a week later, on March 4th, to support developmental testing shortly after the Air Force takes delivery.
Deliveries of the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variant to the U.S. Marine Corps also begin this year, while deliveries of the F-35C carrier variant to the U.S. Navy start in 2012.
As for the flight testing, 17 F-35 are now operating within the F-35 test fleet have logged more than 683 test flights, including 78 flights in 2011. The F-35B has completed 32 vertical landings, including 22 in 2011. The F-35C is scheduled to begin land-based catapult launches and arrested recoveries later this year, with ship-board test flights beginning in 2013. The F-35B will begin test operations from U.S. Marine Corps amphibious assault ships this fall.