An F-35C lands aboard the USS Nimitz
The Navy hopes to have the jet operational by 2018
Variants of the F-35 are also in the works for the Air Force and Marines
A combination of old and new hooked up off the coast of San Diego Monday to give the U.S. Navy a glimpse into its future.
The moment was the first arrested landing aboard an aircraft carrier for the military’s new Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C Lightning II. An arrested landing means the jet was brought to a stop using a tailhook grabbing a wire stretched across the carrier’s deck. The wire is attached to a gear system that brings the plane to a stop.
“This will be one landing out of thousands more that will happen over the next few decades,” Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, executive officer of the Pentagon’s F-35 program, said in a statement.
Monday’s landing came aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz, the oldest active carrier in the Navy’s fleet.
“I’m very excited to see America’s newest aircraft on the flight deck of her oldest aircraft carrier,” said Navy Cmdr. Tony Wilson, the test pilot who landed the F-35C aboard the Nimitz.
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Tests of the F-35C aboard the carrier will continue for a few weeks, the Navy said. It is expected to be operational in the Navy’s carrier air fleet in 2018, joining F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery logistics aircraft, according to a Navy statement.
The F-35C is just one version of the aircraft that the Pentagon has developed for use by the Marines and Air Force as well.
The F-35B, the Marine Corps version, is equipped with short take-off and vertical landing capability and began testing aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp in 2011.
The F-35 was developed at a cost of nearly $400 billion so far and beset for years by cost overruns and delays. The plane’s primary contractor, Lockheed Martin, puts the cost of each F-35C – the most expensive of the three versions – at $116 million, not including the engine. The company says on its website that the price has dropped 55% since the initial planes were contracted.
Engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney said last month it has been awarded a contract worth just over $1 billion for a batch of 48 engines for the F-35.
The Pentagon ultimately wants more than 2,400 of the fighter jets, while hundreds more are expected over time to go to allies such as South Korea, Japan and Australia.
More than 100 planes have been built so far, most for testing, but the program is still in its development and training phases.
The jets were temporarily grounded earlier this year following a fire on the runway at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. No one was hurt.
The military says the stealth fighter will be “the most affordable, lethal, supportable and survivable aircraft ever to be used” by so many services worldwide.