April 21, 2012: Joint Strike fighter Tested Conventional Takeoff and Landing In-Flight Refueling Mission While Configured with External Weapons

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The Joint Strike Fighter Squadron International Task Force completed the first F-35A Lightning II conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) in-flight refueling mission while configured with external weapons. USAF Lt Col George Schwartz piloted the AF-4 loaded with two external inert AIM-9Xs and four external stores. Internally, the jet carried two Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMS) and two Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMS). The two-hour mission tested the flying qualities of the aircraft while maneuvering with external weapons.

The JSF program was the result of the merger of the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter (CALF) and Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) projects.  The merged project continued under the JAST name until the engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) phase, during which the project became the Joint Strike Fighter.  The CALF was a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program to develop a STOVL strike fighter (SSF) for the United States Marine Corps and replacement for the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The United States Air Force passed over the F-16 Agile Falcon in the late 1980s, essentially an enlarged F-16, and continued to mull other designs. In 1992, the Marine Corps and Air Force agreed to jointly develop the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter, also known as Advanced Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (ASTOVL). CALF project was chosen after Paul Bevilaqua persuaded the Air Force that his team's concept (if stripped of its lift system) had potential as a complement to the F-22 Raptor. Thus, in a sense the F-35B begat the F-35A, not the other way around.

The Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program was created in 1993, implementing one of the recommendations of a United States Department of Defense (DoD) "Bottom-Up Review to include the United States Navy in the Common Strike Fighter program." The review also led the Pentagon to continue the F-22 Raptor and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet programs, cancel the Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) and the A/F-X programs, and curtail F-16 and F/A-18C/D procurement. The JAST program office was established on 27 January 1994 to develop aircraft, weapons, and sensor technology with the aim of replacing several disparate US and UK aircraft with a single family of aircraft; the majority of those produced would replace F-16s. Merrill McPeak, former Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, has complained that Defense Secretary Les Aspin's decision to force all three services to use a single airframe greatly increased the costs and difficulty of the project.  In November 1995, the United Kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding to become a formal partner, and agreed to pay $200 million, or 10% of the concept demonstration phase.  In 1997, Canada's Department of National Defense signed on to the Concept Demonstration phase with an investment of US$10 million. This investment allowed Canada to participate in the extensive and rigorous competitive process where Boeing and Lockheed Martin developed and competed their prototype aircraft.

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