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WASHINGTON The F-35 program office announced today the aircraft had finally reached its initial operational test & evaluation phase, which is expected to wrap up next September. That’s three months behind previous projections for mid-summer — the result of the program’s first crash (fortunately non-fatal) and a subsequent grounding — and 16 months behind the original testing plan from 2012.
The announcement means the Air Force, Navy, and Marines will begin testing all three F-35 variants under realistic combat conditions to determine their suitability for combat, followed by a decision to begin full rate production at the end of 2019. The Pentagon did allow the program office to start some of the testing early, including cold-weather testing, weapons demonstrations, and other activities earlier this year.
“The past year’s demonstration was sort of like an ‘appetizer’ if you will,” said Capt. Andrew “Dojo” Olson, F-35 Demonstration Team pilot and commander. The new profile this year will be the full ‘five-course meal’ showing fans everything this jet is capable of.”