Two years later than originally planned, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has a green light to make its international debut this summer at two airshows in the United Kingdom.
Short-takeoff, vertical landing (STOVL) F-35Bs owned by the U.S. Marine Corps will be joined by some of the jets delivered to the Royal Air Force at RAF Fairford on July 8-11 for the Royal International Air Tattoo.
Deputy Commandant for Aviation Lt. Gen. Jon Davis said the Marine Corps is “looking forward to demonstrating capabilities of the F-35B Lightning II in the skies over the United Kingdom this July.”
Almost as soon as RIAT closes, the world’s largest airshow at Farnborough opens, where the F-35 also will be on display. Reports indicate that U.S. Air Force F-35A conventional takeoff and landing variants also will participate in the shows.
The dates are ones the systemically troubled F-35 was unable to keep two years ago. Plans for two F-35Bs to cross the Atlantic for RIAT and Farnborough in 2014 were scrapped because of a fleetwide grounding resulting from an engine fire that all but destroyed an F-35A that summer.
Its absence was considered an embarrassment for Lockheed Martin [LMT] and the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office, both of which were set on showing international partner nations the stealthy, fifth-generation fighter aircraft in which they had invested billions. A ramp in production to satisfy a planned increase in international deliveries is a major element of Lockheed Martin’s plan to lower the per-aircraft cost to around $80 million by 2019.
A turbulent 2014 gave way to largely smooth sailing for the program, which cleared several major milestones the following year. The program met its production goal of 45 aircraft in 2015, bringing the total number of operational aircraft deliveries for the United States and partner militaries to 154 jets.
Japan began mating the first F-35 to be assembled at its final assembly and checkout (FACO) facility in December. An F-35 flew for the first time outside the United States in September when Italy’s first FACO-assembled took flight for a little longer than an hour near Turin and has since flown again.
The jet’s debut in July will be its first international air show. Lockheed Martin chose to skip the Paris Air Show held in June, focusing instead on readying the plane for the U.K. shows in 2016.
Plans are for the F-35Bs to demonstrate their hover capabilities, provided by an integrated lift fan and main engine that can swivel 90 degrees downward when in STOVL mode, for all three days of RIAT.
The aircraft will not just show off. Reports indicate the Marine Corps and its U.K. counterparts will use the flights to practice operational deployments and test whether the countries’ jets work together as intended.
Prime Minister David Cameron recently announced that he planned to speed up the purchase of 24 of the multi-role combat aircraft, a decision that will see two front-line squadrons operating from the United Kingdom’s two new aircraft carriers by 2023.
“The F-35s are the most advanced fast jets in the world,” U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in a prepared statement. “The plan for F-35 aircraft to take part in air shows here in the U.K. this summer is a significant milestone–for our RAF and Royal Navy personnel training hard to fly the F-35; for British industry who are contributing an impressive 15 per cent of every aircraft; and for the British public who will have their first opportunity to see this remarkable aircraft in action.”