Lockheed Martin and the F-35 Joint Program Office delivered the 500th F-35. In February, the F-35 enterprise surpassed 250,000 flight hours.
The 500th production aircraft is a US. Air Force F-35A, to be delivered to the Burlington Air National Guard Base in Vermont. The 500 hundred F-35's include 354 F-35A conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variants, 108 F-35B short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variants and 38 F-35C carrier (CV) variants for the US. and international customers. The 250,000 flight hours include all F-35's in the fleet comprised of developmental test jets, training, operational, US. and international aircraft.
"These milestones are a testament to the talent and dedication of the joint government, military and industry teams," said Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin, vice president and general manager of the F-35 program. "The F-35 is delivering an unprecedented 5th Generation combat capability to the warfighter at the cost of a 4th Generation legacy aircraft."
The United States is the only partner nation that flies all three variants of the F-35. The US. Air Force is the largest F-35 operator of all the international forces with a planned purchase of 1763 F-35A conventional take-off and landing variant. The Lightning II will operate in conjunction with the Air Force's first 5th Generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor. The US. Air Force declared F-35A Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in August 2016.
The Marine Corps currently flies the F-35B short take-off/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, with plans to purchase 353 STOVL jets and 67 F-35C carrier variant aircraft. The US. Marine Corps declared F-35B IOC in July 2015. Together with the Marines, the US. Navy will bring 5th Generation capability to the sea with 260 F-35C jets. The US. Navy declared F-35C IOC in 2018.
The F-35 operates from 23 bases worldwide. More than 985 pilots and over 8,890 maintainers are trained. Nine nations use the F-35 from their home soil, eight services have declared Initial Operating Capability and four services have employed F-35s in combat operations.
In 1997, Lockheed Martin was selected as one of two companies to participate in the Joint Strike Fighter concept demonstration phase. In October 2001, the Lockheed Martin X-35 was chosen as the winner of the competition and teamed with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems to begin production.
The first production F-35A rolled out of the assembly in Fort Worth, Texas, in February of 2006. Later that year, the stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, in development by the United States and eight other countries, was named the "Lightning II," in homage to two earlier fighters.
In December of 2006, the F-35 completed its first flight. Over the next few years, flight and ground test articles of all three variants rolled off the production line and began collecting test points. The first production F-35 conducted its first flight in February of 2011 with deliveries of the aircraft beginning that very same year.
In 2012, the F-35 ramped up with 30 aircraft deliveries and increased testing operations across the United States. The program reached several milestones in weapons separation testing, angle of attack testing, aerial refuelling training, and surpassed more than 5,000 flight hours with more than 2,100 recorded flights in that year.
As the F-35 program's largest customer, the United States is also responsible for a large portion of the design, production, test and sustainability of the Lightning II.