Two F-35 fighter models make test flights

After months of intense scrutiny over delays and rising costs, Lockheed Martin seems to be making consistent progress on the F-35 joint strike fighter program as it reached two milestones in as many days.

The first test version of the F-35C, designed for use aboard Navy aircraft carriers, made its initial, 57-minute flight Sunday.

"It was an absolutely perfect flight," said Tom Burbage, Lockheed executive vice president and general manager.

On Monday afternoon, the fourth short-takeoff-vertical-landing F-35B, designed for the Marine Corps, was flown to the Navy's Patuxent River, Md., test center. It becomes the fourth plane in flight testing at Patuxent River and is the first equipped with all "mission systems" -- radar, targeting, surveillance and communications -- that will be installed in production aircraft.

Monday's flight test was No. 107 this year compared with the 96 that Lockheed and the Pentagon had expected to have completed by the date. There are 394 flight tests planned this year, considerably more than twice the number accumulated before Jan. 1.

"We're starting to turn the corner," Burbage said of getting all three versions of the F-35 in flight testing to prove the design and components and iron out problems along the way.

Sunday's flight was the eighth of 13 flight test airplanes in the original program to fly. A third Air Force version is expected to make its inaugural flight this week.

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