Cleared for Takeoff: F-35B Removed From Probation

Based on the tremendous progress of the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) program during the past year, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced he is rescinding probation for the F-35B. His announcement was made at a town meeting with government and contractor employees at the F-35 Integrated Test Facility at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on Friday. This is a full year ahead of schedule.

“Because STOVL’s performance is now in line with the other two F-35 variants and as a result of the hard work of everyone here and the progress of the program as of today, I am lifting STOVL probation,” Panetta stated.

The F-35B is a stealthy fighter jet capable of landing vertically and taking off in less than 500 feet, giving expeditionary forces the ability to operate from major bases, damaged airstrips, conventional aircraft carriers and smaller amphibious ships. The U.S. Marine Corps plans to make the F-35B its fighter of the future.

“We are honored by the trust and confidence Secretary Panetta showed in the F-35 STOVL variant and the entire F-35 team with today’s announcement,” said Larry Lawson, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program executive vice president and general manager. “I want to thank General Amos and Vice Admiral Venlet for their stalwart leadership in navigating the STOVL program through the year long probation period.  I’d also like to thank the thousands of men and women of the combined government and contractor team who worked tirelessly to make substantial progress in flight testing the STOVL and by solving critical engineering challenges to get us to this point today.  We are committed to the Marine Corps vision and the F-35B role that will revolutionize our expeditionary Marine Air-Ground combat power in current and future threat environments. These 5th Generation aircraft are essential capabilities to our military services and partner nations.”   

Last January, former Secretary Gates placed the B-model on a two-year probationary period citing significant testing problems. The STOVL aircraft program responded by making tremendous progress in 2011. The variant achieved all test flight and point requirements ahead of schedule, successfully completed ship trials onboard the USS WASP (LHD-1), tested Mission Systems Block 1B software and accomplished 268 vertical landings.

Additionally, the STOVL team addressed the former Secretary’s engineering concerns by redesigning the interior bulkhead to prevent cracking, solving roll post nozzle overheating issues, implementing changes to the Auxiliary Air Intake doors, correcting driveshaft spacing and improving cooling and temperature monitoring to ensure proper operation of fan clutch plates.

"I am confident that if we continue to do the hard work necessary, if we continue to do the dedicated work that all of you have been doing, that both the carrier and STOVL variants are going to be ready for operations – ready for doing the work they have to do – which is to help protect this country," said Panetta.