“We live in a goldfish bowl,” sighed Lockheed Martin F-35 vice president customer engagement Steve O’Bryan. Speaking in London last March, he was referring to the stream of official reports, testimonies and comments that examine the Joint Strike Fighter program. This year alone, five major documents on the F-35 have reached the public domain. In January, a Pentagon operational test and evaluation report surfaced.
A Lockheed Martin executive reported “lots of progress” in fixing problems associated with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter helmet-mounted display system (HMDS). But the company continues developing an alternate helmet display in case the existing system fails to meet requirements. Critical design reviews of both systems are planned in the fourth quarter.
Striking machinists at the Lockheed Martin Aeronautics plant in Fort Worth, Texas, voted by a large margin to accept a revised contract offer from the company, bringing to a conclusion a 10-week walkout at the facility that assembles the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) Fort Worth Local 776 voted 1,873 to 447 on June 28 to accept a four-year contract, The Fort Worth Star Telegram reported.
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) reversed course on its Carrier Strike program, confirming a switch from the F-35C CV version back to the F-35B STOVL version of the Joint Strike Fighter. The decision was expected, and has been driven by a doubling of the estimated cost (to more than $3.2 billion) to convert for “cat and trap” operations one of two new British carriers that are already under construction.
The U.S. Navy has started the process of eventually replacing its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighter and the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare derivative. On April 13, the service issued a request for information (RFI) seeking industry concepts for the F/A-XX fighter to replace Super Hornets and Growlers around 2030.
The U.S. Navy released a draft request for proposals (RFP) last month for its future airborne electronic warfare system, the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ), signaling a shift in the $2 billion program to the technology development phase. Contained in under-wing pods on the Navy’s EA-18G Growler, the NGJ will suppress advanced, integrated air defenses, communications systems, datalinks and other threats, replacing the long-serving AN/ALQ-99 tactical jamming system on the Boeing EA-18G and retiring Northrop Grumman EA-6B Prowlers.
After several years of testing, the U.S. Marine Corps has deployed the BAE Systems Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) to Afghanistan. The APKWS is a conversion of the Hydra 70-mm unguided rocket into a precision-guided munition through the addition of the WGU-59/B mid-body guidance unit developed by BAE.
Composite Technology, a Sikorsky Aerospace Services company based at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, has opened a $15 million structure to dynamically balance helicopter main rotor blades. It can test main rotor blades that rotate either clockwise or counterclockwise, and its two 3,000-shp, variable-frequency drive motors make it suitable for light to heavy helicopters. A test involves three blades: a precision-balanced master blade and two test blades. One blade can weigh up to 500 pounds.
Lockheed Martin has described progress in the F-35 development program, and solutions to some of the problems that have recently been identified. Having exceeded the planned flight-test sorties and test points in 2011 by 15 percent, the company is hoping for similar gains this year. Of the 59,585 test points scheduled for the development phase through 2016, just over one-fifth had been flown by the end of December.
Pratt & Whitney’s engines power a wide range of military aircraft in operation around the world, but 2011’s developments in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II program made the company’s year–especially as its F135 became the sole powerplant for all three Lockheed Martin JSF variants: the conventional F-35A, STOVL F-35B and carrier-based (CV) F-35C.