By Marina Malenic

Flight testing of a U.S. Navy F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) jet will begin before the end of the year, an executive from prime contractor Lockheed Martin [LMT] said on Friday.

The F-35C, a carrier variant of the multi-service aircraft, will have its first flight test in the first quarter of fiscal year 2010, said Steve O’Bryan, vice president of Lockheed Martin F-35 Business Development.

Speaking Friday at a U.S. Navy League media luncheon in Virginia, O’Bryan noted that the Navy earlier this year requested that Congress reprogram funds for four test jets.

“As a fifth generation fighter, the F-35 is combining unprecedented situational awareness, net-enabled systems, advanced sustainment, stealth and fighter performance in an affordable and supportable package,” O’Bryan said. “These next-generation capabilities will maintain the U.S. Navy as the premier sea force for decades to come.”

The F-35 is in development for the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps, as well as several U.S. allies.

“The key to affordability is the commonality of the tri-variant design of the F-35, with two interchangeable engines, a sustainment tool set and a common avionics system and air frame,” O’Bryan said. “The F-35 provides best value in a package that…enhances interoperability among the services and allied nations.”

The F-35 is a supersonic, multi-role, fifth generation stealth fighter. Three F-35 variants derived from a common design and using the same sustainment infrastructure worldwide will replace at least 13 types of aircraft for 11 nations initially.

Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 along with Northrop Grumman [NOC] and BAE Systems. Two separate, interchangeable F-35 engines are under development–the Pratt & Whitney [UTX] F135 and the General Electric [GE]- Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team F136.