Lockheed Martin announced Wednesday that AF-3, the third F-35A test aircraft in the Air Force’s conventional takeoff configuration, flew for the first time on July 6. Lockheed Martin F-35 test pilot Bill Gigliotti took it on a 42-minute flight around Lockheed’s F-35 assembly plant in Fort Worth, Tex. AF-3 is the ninth F-35 test aircraft overall and the second to carry the powerful avionics suite that will reside on all operational F-35s. “AF-3 is very much like the first production F-35s we will deliver to the US Air Force later this year,” said Doug Pearson, Lockheed’s vice president of F-35 test and verification. The aircraft will soon begin tests with the avionics package, which includes a Northrop Grumman-supplied advanced electronically scanned array radar system. BF-4, an F-35B short-takeoff variant flying since April, was the first F-35 test aircraft fitted with the avionics.
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.