The F-35C carrier variant of the Joint Strike Fighter program was officially unveiled to the public on July 28 at the Lockheed Martin production facility in Fort Worth. Speakers at the rollout ceremony included Tom Burbage, BrigGen David Heinz, and ADM Gary Roughead, the executive vice president of the program, the program executive officer, and and chief of naval operations respectively. The plane that was rolled out is the first F-35C built to fly and will undergo extensive testing before taking its first flight in winter of this year. It will be designated CF-1 and will be a key test plane to precede full scale production of the JSF in 2015, much of which will take place in the Fort Worth complex. CF-1 will execute the first real-world carrier trials to hopefully confirm the JSFs viability as a naval fighter. The F-35C will be the largest Joint Strike Fighter variant incorporating the largest payload capability and the longest range. It will use the CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery) system to launch and land on US naval Nimitz Class carriers. It is a revolutionary system that for the first time will provide stealth 5th generation technology to the Navy.The launch of CF-1 will be a huge milestone in the epically large Joint Strike Fighter program to deliver some 3,100 planes to the US and its allies and to serve through 2040.
Video loop shown at the seremony featuring a CGI demo of the F-35C taking off from a carrier deck.
The CTOL carrier variant of the F-35 program for the Navy, the F-35C, achieved its first successful flight on June 6, 2010 from NAS Ft. Worth. The flight lasted 57 minutes and was piloted by former lead F-117 test pilot Jeff “Slim” Knowles. The plane flew under the title of CF-1 with planes CF-2 and CF-3 scheduled to fly before the end of the year. The F-35C was unveiled 11 months ago and the first test flight has been delayed several times until this month.
The first simulated carrier landing was conducted during the competition with Boeing while still designated X-35. The test landing was done on a long runway on land for safety but the signal lights and other features of an aircraft carrier where layed out like a real landing. You will see that the plane comes in at a steep angle to simulate grabbing the arresting cable with the tail hook. The pilot will put down the forward landing gear much quicker than a usual on-land touchdown, which is standard on the extremely short landing deck of a carrier. Instead of slowing to a stop, the pilot pushes the throttle all the way up and takes right back off again. This is also a simulation of an arrested landing where the pilot needs enough thrust to take back off again in case he misses the cable. The cable is strong enough that if the plane catches it, it will hold even at full throttle.
The only gun on baord the Joint Strike Fighter will be a 4-barreled Gatling cannon. The 25mm GAU-22 will carry about 200 rounds and will fire at a rate of 3300 rounds per minute. This means that although the gun will have extremely rapid and powerful firing capabilities, the entire stock of ammunition will be used up in less than four seconds. This will be less of a problem for the F-35 than it would be for fourth generation aircraft because the F-35 relies on its missiles so heavily for offense and will avoid dogfights as much as possible. The gun would only be used for defense in the projected rare case that a dogfight does occur. When missile technology first came about, experts believed that dogfights would become extinct. The first new planes in the missile era, like the F-4 Phantom, carried no gun and were outmatched when the inevitable close range battle broke out. The aviation community has since learned its lesson as all modern American fighters carry a gun or cannon. The F-35A conventional fighter will carry its gun internally mounted over the pilot’s left shoulder, similar to the mounting on the F-22. The B and C will carry the gun in an attached pod under the aircraft that will allow for slightly more rounds or the option to detach the gun and carry extra fuel, missiles, or whatever the mission calls for. The GAU-22 is designed and manufactured by General Dynamics and is based on the companies successful GAU-12 used on the Harrier. The main difference between the two is that the newer gun has only four barrels to the GAU-12’s five. This will make the gun significantly lighter and more compact. This change will also reportedly make the gun more accurate while maintaining a similar muzzle velocity.
To see a History Channel “Dogfights” episode on the F-4 Phantom and the onset of the missile age, please visit the F-35C Forum.