F-35 Tests Shouldn't Be Delayed, Lockheed Official Says




 
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February 9th, 2008  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: F-35 Tests Shouldn't Be Delayed, Lockheed Official Says


Fort Worth Star-Telegram
February 9, 2008 By Bob Cox
Initial flight tests of the second F-35 joint strike fighter should not be delayed much despite the failure of an engine during tests earlier this week, a senior Lockheed Martin official said Friday.
If all goes well, the F-35B Lightning II aircraft – the first capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings (STOVL) – should begin conventional flights before the end of June, close to the original schedule.
After extensive discussions with Pratt & Whitney and Pentagon officials this week, Dan Crowley, Lockheed executive vice president for the F-35, said program managers don’t believe the engine problem will cause serious delays in the overall flight testing schedule.
“Our plan all along was to fly conventional first” to assess the basic aircraft performance, Crowley said in an interview. Initial tests of the aircraft in short-takeoff, vertical-landing flight was not due to take place until early next year.
Crowley said engineers and program officials were still assessing the overall timeline, but at this point don’t anticipate more than a couple of months delay in beginning the critical STOVL tests.
The failure on Monday of the Pratt & Whitney engine, which was destined to be shipped to Lockheed soon for installation in the second test aircraft, comes at a time the F-35 program probably needs to start showing consistent progress, meeting schedules and budget.
The F-35 program is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons development program with an estimated cost of at least $299 billion, almost twice that of the second most expensive program, the Army’s $160 billion Future Combat System.
President Bush’s proposed 2009 budget would provide $6.73 billion to fully fund continued development and testing as well as production of a third batch of 16 planes.
But by the time Congress wraps up budget work this fall, a lack of testing progress or further problems could make the F-35 program a target for cuts to pay for other programs such as the Lockheed F-22 Raptors the Air Force badly wants.
In addition, one of the staunchest allies of the F-35, the deputy defense secretary, Gordon England, will most likely leave office by the time a new president takes office next January.
A new administration, with campaign promises to fulfill and facing ever greater budget pressures, could decide to re-order Pentagon spending priorities.
“It’s important to keep in mind that the ultimate customer for all these weapons systems is a political system that is about to change dramatically,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating office of the pro-defense Lexington Institute who is a consultant to Lockheed and has close ties to the Air Force.
The F-35B, because of the requirement that it be able to take off, land vertically and hover, is the costliest and most complex of the three versions of the aircraft.
Monday’s test was the second time that one of the Pratt & Whitney jet engines rigged specifically for use in the F-35B has lost a turbine compressor blade, a potentially catastrophic event in flight. Pratt & Whitney officials say after the first failure last August they researched the problem and redesigned new turbine blades, which are being manufactured and will be delivered by mid-year.
The problem is believed to be due to extra stress endured by the compressor blades as a result of being linked to a drive shaft which is connected to and turns a lift fan installed in the mid-fuselage of the aircraft. The lift fan produces 20,000 pounds of lifting thrust, enabling the airplane to hover and land vertically with fuel and weapons aboard.
A clutch is used to engage and disengage the lift fan as the F-35 transitions to and from vertical to conventional flight.
Lockheed engine experts are working with their Pratt & Whitney counterparts, Crowley said, and are “confident they have isolated” the design flaw that causing the blades to fail after heavy use.
“It’s the purpose of the development program to run these kinds of tests and find these problems” before they occur in flight, the Lockheed executive said.
Hans Weber, a California aviation engineering consultant, said that jet engine design is extremely complex and in many cases “as much art as it is science. There is a great deal of trial and error involved.”
Lockheed had planned to begin hover tests, with the plane tethered, in April. Initial flight testing had been penciled in for late May or early June.
The first F-35 test aircraft made three more flights this week, Crowley said, and “is performing beautifully.”
 


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