The F-35A Lightning II took a big step towards entering active service in the skies above Edwards Air Force Base in California yesterday. For the first time, this fifth-gen fighter jet performed a live fire weapons test, successfully engaging and deploying an air-to-air missile against an unmanned target. Look at that bad boy go.
According to a Lockheed Martin press release:
Air Force Captain Capt. Logan Lamping employed the AIM-120 radar-seeking missile from the F-35's internal weapons bay against an aerial drone target in restricted military sea test range airspace. Test data and observers confirmed the F-35 identified and targeted the drone with its mission systems sensors, passed the target "track" information to the missile, and launched the AIM-120 from the aircraft to engage the target drone. After launch, the missile successfully acquired the target and followed an intercept flight profile. Moments before the missile was about to destroy the target, a self-destruct signal was sent to the AIM-120 in order to preserve the aerial drone for use in future tests.
The F-35A is the Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL) variant of the Lightning II family. It's destined for service in the Air Force, replacing the ageing F-16 fleet. The F-35B variant is the VTOL (Vertical Takeoff and Landing) version going to the Marine Corps and the British Royal Navy. An F-35B successfully completed its first air-to-ground weapons test on Wednesday when it hit a stationary target with a 500-pound Guided Bomb Unit-12 (GBU-12) Paveway II laser-guided bomb.
"This successful missile launch marks the first live-fire weapons test and is an initial demonstration of the air-to-air combat capability the F-35 will bring to the U.S. Military and our International Partners," said Charlie Wagner, weapons team lead for the F-35 Joint Program Office, in a press statement. It was worth every billion we've spent so far.