YUMA, Ariz. — The F-35B Joint Strike Fighter, which is expected to arrive at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma by the end of the year, accomplished another milestone recently, successfully completing the first airborne engine start tests.
Conducted during a series of flights at California's Edwards Air Force Base, the tests demonstrated the capabilities of the F-35's propulsion system to restart during flight at various altitudes.
“High alpha, or angle-of-attack tests, are important for us to fully evaluate the aircraft's handling characteristics and warfighting capability,” said Marine Corps test pilot Lt. Col. Matthew Kelly.
“Maximizing the performance of the airplane around the very slow edges of the flight envelope is probably some of the most challenging testing we will conduct. After we get through it, we'll know a lot more about how this aircraft will perform during combat within visual range.”
Verifying the restart capability of the short take-off and vertical landing variant of the jet's propulsion system is part of the initial flight test program for the F-35 and a prerequisite for high angle-of-attack testing, scheduled to start next year.
According to the F-35 integrated test force, Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter successfully completed a series of 27 air starts at various altitudes on Aug. 15, using multiple restarts methods. The core of the F-35B's propulsion system is the F135 engine, capable of more than 40,000 pounds of thrust.
“The F135 continues to power a successful flight test program,” said Roy Hauck, Pratt & Whitney site lead at the F-35 Patuxent River ITF. “The aircraft and its integrated systems demonstrated intentional flameout and successful recovery scenarios during air start flight tests, and BF-2 and the team did a great job.”
To conduct the air start testing, the F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River brought in a BF-2 aircraft and an F/A-18 chase aircraft from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 to the F-35A testing facility at Edwards AFB. A team of approximately 60 ITF and VX-23 personnel provided engineering and maintenance requirements for the events.
“At Edwards, we have a unique testing range, which provides ideal and controlled conditions for completing air start testing,” said Lt. Col. George N. Schwartz, commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and government site director. “The Edwards range is comprised of 20,000 square miles of airspace and has 65 linear miles of usable landing area on Rogers and Rosamond Dry Lakes, if required during engine out testing.
“In addition, we've recently completed air start testing on the F-35A, so we're able to share some of our expertise with the Pax team as well.”
The first F-35 is expected to arrive at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma by Nov. 25. The first of five state-of-the-art hangars being built to house the five expected F-35 squadrons of 16 planes each and one operational test and evaluation squadron of eight aircraft, has been completed.
An additional F-35 is expected to arrive each month after the initial fighter until a full squadron is stationed at the base. The total transition from old aircraft to new aircraft and personnel for the F-35 squadrons is scheduled for 2020.
The first F-35 squadron, Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 121, is already moving into the newly completed hangar. A simulator building has also been completed, with the first two of eight F-35 flight simulators currently being installed.
In addition, a new utility communications facility and a new maintenance facility are being erected. A second hangar is expected to be completed by fall. To train F-35 pilots how to land on the deck of amphibious assault ships at sea, an auxiliary landing field will be built on the Barry M. Goldwater Range.
About $400 million has been invested in the construction of infrastructure at MCAS Yuma so far, which will pay off for Yuma's economy in the long run by making the air station ready to serve the defense needs of the country for many decades to come.
Since MCAS Yuma will be the home of the first fully operational F-35 squadrons, many units from all branches of the military that will transition to the new aircraft are expected to spend time training here.