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F-35 Joint Strike Fighter breaks sound barrier

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Official photo

WASHINGTON (BNS): The US aviation giant Lockheed Martin has announced that its F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a fifth generation combat aircraft, crossed the sound barrier in a test flight held on Saturday where the aircraft carried dummy weapons.

F-35 Lightning II has now been declared a supersonic aircraft, transforming itself from the subsonic status. It touched a speed of Mach 1.05 or about 680 miles per hour during the one hour test flight.

“The F-35 transitioned from subsonic to supersonic just as our engineers and our computer modelling had predicted,” Lockheed Martin's chief F-35 test pilot Jon Beesley said.

The pilot appreciated the performance of F-35 and expressed satisfaction on the behaviour of aircraft in supersonic conditions. “I continue to be impressed with the aircraft's power and strong acceleration, and I am pleased that its precise handling qualities are retained in supersonic flight, even with a payload of 5,400 pounds in the weapon bays,” he said.

The test pilot accelerated the aircraft to cross sound barrier after the aircraft climbed to 30,000 feet over north Texas. After accelerating to Mach 1.05 it remained there for eight minutes before it was slowed down to subsonic levels.

The company officials claimed that some more test flights would follow to reach the designed top speed of Mach 1.6 with full weapon load. This was the 69th flight of F-35 AA-1.

Lockheed Martin has developed F-35 AA-1 as a Conventional Take Off and Landing variant, known as CTOL in aviation parlance. The other variant F-35 BF-1 is designed for Short Take Off and Vertical Landing.

Both the aircraft have been flown more than 80 times. F-35 is a stealth featured aircraft. Another distinct feature of the aircraft is the super cruise feature which means achieving super sonic speed without using fuel sapping afterburners.

Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems are acting as prime contractors for various sub-systems. The aircraft would complement the F-22 Raptor produced by Boeing. F-22 is the only fifth generation fighter aircraft in service. It is progressively entering the service at US Air Force.

Lockheed Martin hoped that F-35 would replace F-16, the fourth generation fighter which has become the most sold combat aircraft in the world.

F-35 is being developed in three versions for Air Force, Navy and Marines. The company is confident of finding a huge market for the aircraft which is much cheaper than F-22. It is likely to come at half the price of an F-22. In terms of looks, the two have striking similarities. But their capabilities differ a great deal.

In the US Airforce both aircrafts will complement each other. The F-22 is an air superiority aircraft with a limited ground attack role. Whereas the F-35 is predominantly a ground attack aircraft having capability to fight other aircrafts also.

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