A developmental test team from the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) 461st Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) ‘Deadly Jesters’ conducted the first flight of an F-35A Lightning II in the fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter’s new Technology Refresh 3 (TR-3) configuration at Edwards Air Force Base (AFB) in California on January 6.
Piloted by Maj Ryan ‘BOLO’ Luersen, an experimental test pilot with the USAF, the Lightning II used in this highly anticipated test flight – serial 07-0745 ‘ED’ (c/n AF-07), the second F-35A to be built in serial production – is a specially instrumented flight test aircraft and was the first to receive the TR-3 upgrades. During the 50-minute test flight, ‘BOLO’ departed Edwards AFB and flew the TR-3-configured F-35A at near-supersonic speed to 35,000ft above the Mojave Desert, California, before executing a functional check flight profile to verify the aircraft’s airworthiness and system stability.
This initial flight marked the start of an extensive flight test campaign, with both developmental and operational test flights set to continue throughout the year to ensure safety and prove the warfighting capabilities of the TR-3-configured F-35. The introduction of this new TR-3 hardware/software significantly updates the F-35’s core processing power and memory capacity, enabling the platform to run advanced software that comes with new and enhanced warfighting capabilities.
Lt Col Christopher Campbell, commander of the 461st FLTS and director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force, said: “The F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards AFB is proud to have executed yet another first flight within the F-35 programme. [TR-3] modernises the computational core of the F-35 air vehicle. Therefore, new TR-3 hardware and software affect nearly every aircraft feature.”
TR-3 is an integral component in the supporting infrastructure surrounding the Lightning II’s future Block 4 upgrade, which will bring a host of new capabilities to the F-35 family. Among other things, this includes new sensor suites, more long-range precision weapons, improved electronic warfare features, more powerful data fusion and increased cross-platform interoperability. Combined, these new and enhanced warfighting capabilities will provide operators with a greater combat-edge to identify, track and engage adversary targets, while further improving survivability against advanced air-, ground- and cyber-based threats.
Commenting on the importance of this milestone test flight, USAF Lt Gen Mike Schmidt – program executive officer at the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) – said: “This is a significant achievement for the F-35 programme. TR-3 is the F-35’s critical computer processing electronics upgrade that will continue to provide all our pilots with the capability they need to be successful against any adversary. There is still a lot of work to do and I am confident that our industry partners and government team will get the job done.”
While the TR-3 programme has overcome complex and technical hardware/software challenges during its development, the F-35 JPO states that the project is now on-track to start delivering this upgraded capability to the US military and other global F-35 operators this year. “The government and industry team continue to find innovative ways to ensure delivery of critical capabilities to defeat future threats. Lessons learned in the execution of the TR-3 programme will be applied across the entire Block 4 modernisation programme,” the JPO added.