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.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.