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F-35 Christmas Presents: 45 Planes (And More?)

Posted by Colin Clark on

F-35 ejection seat Martin Baker

WASHINGTON: After years and years of busted schedules, cost overruns and technical challenges, the F-35 program is expected to end 2015 on a high note, with all production goals met and solid progress resolving the ejection seat issues that threaten lighter pilots.

I understand from industry and program sources that, after getting stalled, there is a good chance that the so-called handshake agreement on LRIP 9 is also likely to be announced. Of course, those negotiations are always fraught, so we’ll take that one with a grain of salt.

Lockheed Martin has completed 43 of the 45 planes planned to be built this year, including the first foreign-built plane that was recently rolled out in Italy. There appears little doubt the other two will be done on time.

Workers can be seen on the moving line and forward fuselage assembly areas for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Lockheed Martin Corp's factory located in Fort Worth, Texas in this October 13, 2011 handout photo provided by Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin Corp on February 25, 2013 said there was no evidence that a lithium-ion battery contributed to a Feb. 14 incident that caused smoke in the cockpit of an F-35 test plane. Lockheed spokesman Michael Rein said initial reviews indicated a potential failure in the plane's cooling system, which had been removed from the aircraft for further study.  Picture taken October 13, 2011.  REUTERS/Lockheed Martin/Randy A. Crites/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: MILITARY)  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - RTR3EAKJ

F-35 production line at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, Texas plant.

Also, engineers believe they’ve come up with a solution for the troubled ejection seat, which could kill pilots who weigh less than 136 pounds. Some sled tests have been done with a new head panel and a delayed parachute release, but the data is still being crunched, so we’re not sure yet if the solution has been confirmed. We may not know until around the time of the Farnborough Air Show.

Also, it’s awfully early to say much, but work is already underway to get F-35Bs, which will fly from the Royal Navy’s new Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers, to Britain for the early July Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and then to Farnborough. Breaking D readers will remember, of course, the F-35A engine fire meant no F-35Bs at the last British air shows.

What do you think?