Category Archives: Fighters

Hellenic Rafale

On January 19, 2022 six Rafale of the Hellenic Air Force (HAF), operated by its pilots, took off from the Dassault Aviation site in Istres to the Tanagra Air Base, where they were welcomed in a ceremony by the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, accompanied by the Minister of National Defense Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos and Senior Greek authorities. Éric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, was also present to welcome their arrival.

Hellenic Rafale
Rafale arrives in the Hellenic Air Force (HAF)

The entry into operational service in the Hellenic Air Force’s 332 Squadron of these first six Rafale aircraft comes as a proof of the quality of the partnership between France and Greece, and occurs only one year after the signature of the contract for 18 aircraft. It is a testimony to the excellent relation between French and Greek authorities as well as between the Hellenic Air Force and Dassault Aviation teams.

The expertise of the training provided, in particular by Dassault Aviation, at the Mérignac Conversion Training Center (CTC), to Greek pilots, mechanics and HAF technicians, undeniably contributes to the success of this first ferry. The training of personnel will continue in the coming months in France and Greece.

The delivery of the next HAF Rafale will start at the end of 2022 with the objective to have all the fleet deployed at Tanagra Air Base by the summer of 2023.

«The mastery with which the Hellenic Air Force carried out this first ferry flight is a testimony to the excellence of our cooperation and the strength of our historical relationship with Greece for more than 45 years. Thanks to our mobilization, we were able to meet the expectations of the Greek authorities in record time, who now have the Rafale on national territory to reinforce the protection and sovereignty of the country. It also attests to the outstanding quality of our aircraft, confirmed by its export success. Lastly, it reflects our total commitment to meeting the needs of the HAF and to participating in Greece’s strategic ambitions», declared Éric Trappier at the end of the ceremony.

Initial Operational Capability

The Netherlands Ministry of Defence and Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) have officially declared Initial Operational Capability (IOC) for their F-35A Lightning II fleet. With this announcement the Netherlands becomes the eighth country and 12th military service to declare IOC for its F-35A Lightning II fleet.

F-35A Lightning II
Royal Netherlands Air Force Declares F-35 IOC

«The declaration of IOC ushers in a new era of air power that gives the RNLAF transformational capabilities», F-35 Program Vice President and General Manager Bridget Lauderdale said. «I am proud of the Lockheed Martin team’s commitment to delivering the most effective, survivable and connected fighter to our partners in the Netherlands».

The most advanced fighter jet ever built, the F-35A Lightning II offers the RNLAF unmatched air superiority. Using its sensors and low observable technology, the F-35A Lightning II can operate with impunity in contested airspace and fuse a picture of the battlespace for other air, land and sea assets. Along with its advanced weapons capacity and superior range, the F-35A Lightning II offers unparalleled combat capabilities. The F-35A Lightning II will ensure the RNLAF can protect the national interest of the Netherlands and contribute to critical regional allied deterrence missions for decades to come.

The F-35A Lightning II program is leveraging the Netherlands’ industrial experience and expertise gained on the F-16 Fighting Falcon program to contribute to the technology development and production of the F-35 Lightning II. Every F-35A Lightning II contains components manufactured by Dutch companies, with more than 25 suppliers from across Dutch industry contributing to the program. With the introduction of advanced technologies, Dutch industry is strategically positioned to participate in the production of more than 3,000 F-35 Lightning II aircraft over the life of the program.

A total of 24 F-35As have been delivered to the RNLAF, and RNLAF crews have surpassed more than 9,085 flight hours to date, with 55 pilots and 262 maintainers supporting the fleet.

With more than 730 aircraft operating from 29 bases and ships across the globe, the F-35 Lightning II plays a critical role in today’s global security environment. More than 1,535 pilots and 11,500 maintainers have been trained on the aircraft. Nine nations have F-35s operating from their home soil.

 

F-35A SPECIFICATIONS

Length 51.4 feet/15.7 m
Height 14.4 feet/4.38 m
Wingspan 35 feet/10.7 m
Wing area 460 feet2/42.7 m2
Horizontal tail span 22.5 feet/6.86 m
Weight empty 29,300 lbs./13,290 kg
Internal fuel capacity 18,250 lbs./8,278 kg
Weapons payload 18,000 lbs./8,160 kg
Maximum weight 70,000 lbs. class/31,751 kg
Standard internal weapons load two AIM-120C air-to-air missiles;

two 2,000-pound/907 kg GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guided bombs

Propulsion (uninstalled thrust ratings) F135-PW-100
Maximum Power (with afterburner) 43,000 lbs./191,3 kN/19,507 kgf
Military Power (without afterburner) 28,000 lbs./128,1 kN/13,063 kgf
Engine Length 220 in/5.59 m
Engine Inlet Diameter 46 in/1.17 m
Engine Maximum Diameter 51 in/1.30 m
Bypass Ratio 0.57
Overall Pressure Ratio 28
Speed (full internal weapons load) Mach 1.6 (~1,043 knots/1,200 mph/1,931 km/h)
Combat radius (internal fuel) >590 NM/679 miles/1,093 km
Range (internal fuel) >1,200 NM/1,367 miles/2,200 km
Maximum g-rating 9.0

 

Planned Quantities

U.S. Air Force 1,763
Italy 60
Netherlands 46
Australia 72
Belgium 34
Norway 52
Poland 32
Denmark 27
Finland 64
Canada 65
Israel 75
South Korea 60
Japan 105
Switzerland 36
In total 2,491

 

Laser peening process

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) marked a milestone in its support of the F-35B Lightning II aircraft when it successfully completed verification of the laser shock peening process and returned the first aircraft to undergo the procedure to the fleet.

F-35B Lightning II
Fleet Readiness Center East transportation specialists move the first F-35B Lightning II aircraft inducted to undergo laser peening modifications into the laser peening facility in early 2021. The laser peening procedure strengthens the aircraft’s frame without adding any additional material. FRCE recently completed verification of the modification procedure and returned this aircraft to the fleet for service

Laser shock peening strengthens the aircraft’s frame without adding any additional material or weight, which would reduce its capability by limiting its fuel or weapons carrying capacity. The procedure helps extend the life expectancy of the fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II fighter, which is the Short TakeOff-Vertical Landing (STOVL) variant flown by the U.S. Marine Corps. Verification of the process provides quality control by confirming it meets system-level requirements through a combination of inspection, analysis, demonstration and testing.

«The laser shock peening modification is essential to extending the life of the F-35B STOVL variant, and the ability to complete this procedure successfully allows FRC East to support this critical workload», said FRCE Commanding Officer Colonel Thomas A. Atkinson. «Standing up this strategic capability positions FRC East as a readiness multiplier for the future of Marine Corps aviation, and I’m proud of the hard work and dedication shown by the team in achieving verification of the process and returning the first laser shock peened F-35 aircraft to the fleet».

FRCE completed construction on a $6 million, purpose-built laser shock peening facility in August 2019, and inducted the first F-35 to undergo the procedure in June 2020. Achieving the verification milestone required a cooperative effort by a multidisciplinary team that spans FRCE, the F-35 Joint Program Office, the aircraft manufacturer and the contractors that developed and conduct the laser peening procedure.

«The big picture here is that we set up a capability that has never been stood up before. We made STOVL history by completing verification of the laser shock peening procedure on the first Marine Corps aircraft inducted for the modification and returned to the fleet», said Jeanie Holder, the F-35 Joint Program Office induction manager at FRCE. «As our local enterprise, we accomplished a lot to get the building stood up, get the equipment set up, and then roll the first aircraft into something that has never been done before».

Ike Rettenmair, the interim Fixed Wing Division director at FRCE, said he agreed the teamwork between the venture’s stakeholders – FRC East, the F-35 Joint Program Office, Lockheed Martin, Curtiss-Wright Surface Technologies and Northrup Grumman Corporation – helped make the effort successful.

«We have a great partnership between the working entities, and that makes all the difference», he added.

Brent Dane, director of laser technology at Curtiss-Wright, said the company is proud to be part of this milestone.

«Curtiss-Wright Surface Technology takes great pride in our contributions to returning the first laser peened F-35B to active service and we look forward to continued support of the F-35 fleet with this unique laser strengthening process», he said. «With the ever-growing applications of this technology to critical military assets, we are honored to contribute to our nation’s defense and to help guard the safety of the warfighter».

Having the laser shock peening process verified means FRCE and its partners conducted the modification for the first time and was then troubleshot, streamlined and improved, said Wes Klor, overhaul and repair supervisor on the F-35 modification line at FRCE.

«Our team got in there and completed the modification according to the engineering instruction, found any issues or trouble spots and documented these areas», Klor explained.

«The artisans will take the instructions and work them, step by step, until they get to a point where they see an area for correction or improvement», he continued. «Then they work with engineering to make changes to the engineering instruction on the spot and test out these solutions. Finally, they repeat the entire process successfully».

Verification validates the engineering instruction, the tooling, the supply system and other factors associated with the process, noted Scott Nelson, F-35 Joint Program Office induction manager at FRCE.

«Verification makes the process repeatable», he said. «You could take that instruction now and go complete this modification anywhere in the world if you had an LSP facility because all the steps are correct and in the right order. You have everything you need to do it».

The verification marks FRCE as the first and only facility in the world to capable of conducting the laser shock peening modification on an F-35 aircraft; a second facility, Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, is scheduled to come online in the near future, and FRCE has served as a model for successful standup, Holder said.

«We found all the potholes. We have broken ground for them to be able to fall in behind us and not have to do it the hard way», she said. «It was always intended for FRC East to lead the way».

The Air Force facility has even sent members of its workforce to observe and learn from the work done at FRCE, Rettenmair added.

«They’ve sent artisans here to see what we do», he said. «They’ve sent planners and business office staff just to learn from this laser shock peening verification effort, and we’re willing to reach out to them and help them be successful».

The skill and enthusiasm of the artisans on FRCE’s F-35 modification line make this type of success possible at the depot and beyond, Rettenmair added.

«The commitment of the team is unmatched», he said. «The F-35 team as a whole is just hard to touch, with their loyalty and dedication to the success of the program. It’s great to see».

All told, almost 15,000 labor hours went into verifying the process, Holder said, which sets FRCE up for success when it comes to working laser shock peening modifications for select F-35B aircraft in the future.

«This is going to be a major part of the FRC East F-35 workload for the next five to seven years», she explained. «FRC East is the only facility that can do it besides the complex at Ogden, which will be providing the service on a limited, overflow basis because of their work on the F-35A, which is the conventional takeoff and landing variant flown by the Air Force. So, it’s huge. Truly, in my opinion, it is a big deal».

FRCE is the lead site for depot-level maintenance on the F-35B Lightning II and has conducted modifications and repair on the Marine Corps’ short takeoff-vertical landing variant of the aircraft since 2013. The facility has also worked with the F-35A (conventional takeoff and landing) and F-35C (carrier) variants.

FRCE is North Carolina’s largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

 

F-35B SPECIFICATIONS

Length 51.2 feet/15.6 m
Height 14.3 feet/4.36 m
Wingspan 35 feet/10.7 m
Wing area 460 feet2/42.7 m2
Horizontal tail span 21.8 feet/6.65 m
Weight empty 32,300 lbs./14,651 kg
Internal fuel capacity 13,500 lbs./6,125 kg
Weapons payload 15,000 lbs./6,800 kg
Maximum weight 60,000 lbs. class/27,215 kg
Standard internal weapons load two AIM-120C Air-to-Air Missiles;

two 2,000-pound/907-kg GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) guided bombs

Propulsion (uninstalled thrust ratings) F135-PW-600
Maximum Power (with afterburner) 41,000 lbs./182,4 kN/18,597 kgf
Military Power (without afterburner) 27,000 lbs./120,1 kN/12,247 kgf
Short Take Off Thrust 40,740 lbs./181,2 kN/18,479 kgf
Hover Thrust 40,650 lbs./180,8 kN/18,438 kgf
Main Engine 18,680 lbs./83,1 kN/8,473 kgf
Lift Fan 18,680 lbs./83,1 kN/8,473 kgf
Roll Post 3,290 lbs./14,6 kN/1,492 kgf
Length 369 inch/9.37 m
Main Engine Inlet Diameter 43 inch/1.09 m
Main Engine Maximum Diameter 46 inch/1.17 m
Lift Fan Inlet Diameter 51 inch/1,30 m
Lift Fan Maximum Diameter 53 inch/1,34 m
Conventional Bypass Ratio 0.57
Powered Lift Bypass Ratio 0.51
Conventional Overall Pressure Ratio 28
Powered Lift Overall Pressure Ratio 29
Speed (full internal weapons load) Mach 1.6 (~1,043 knots/1,200 mph/1,931 km/h)
Combat radius (internal fuel) >450 NM/517.6 miles/833 km
Range (internal fuel) >900 NM/1,035.8 miles/1,667 km
Max g-rating 7.0

 

Planned Quantities

U.S. Marine Corps 353
U.K. Royal Air Force/Royal Navy 80
Italy 15
South Korea 20
Singapore 12
Japan 42
In total 522

 

Historical contract

In the presence of the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, and Sheikh Mohammed ben Zayed Al Nahyane, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Vice-Commander of the Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, signed a historical contract with Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hosani, CEO of Tawazun Economic Council, in charge of security and defense acquisitions, for the acquisition of 80 Rafale F4 for the United Arab Emirates Air Force & Air Defence (UAE AF & AD).

Rafale F4
Historical contract for the acquisition of 80 Rafale F4 by the United Arab Emirates

The Rafale F4, for which the Emirates Air Force will be the first user outside France, will provide the Emirates armed forces with a tool capable of guaranteeing sovereignty and operational independence. This contract is the result of total mobilization by Dassault Aviation alongside the Emirates Air Force and comes on the back of a more than 45-year long relationship of trust between the United Arab Emirates and our company, built on the Mirage family of fighter aircraft, notably the Mirage 2000-9, the modernization of which began two years ago.

Eric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, said: «The sale of 80 Rafale to the UAE Federation is a French success story: I am very proud and very happy as a result. I wish to thank the authorities of the Emirates for their renewed confidence in our aircraft. After the Mirage 5 and Mirage 2000, this Rafale contract consolidates the strategic relationship that binds our two countries and the satisfaction of the Emirates Air Force, a long-standing and demanding partner of our company. I wish to underline the quality and effectiveness of the relationship between the French authorities and industry, which contributed to this success by team France.

This contract is excellent news for France and for its aeronautical industry, for the entire ecosystem of 400 companies, both large and small, which contribute to the Rafale: this represents thousands of guaranteed jobs in our sector for the coming decade. This contract, which is the largest ever obtained by the French combat aeronautics industry, consolidates a national industrial base, which is without doubt unique in Europe, comprising as it does major groups and SME/SMIs, around a company which has been the prime contractor for all the generations of military and civil aircraft for the past 70 years. The success of the Rafale with our armed forces and its sale to the UAE Federation, as well as its export to five other countries who are already customers, clearly shows that French combat aviation is an internationally recognized center of excellence on the national industrial landscape».

Croatian Rafale

At a ceremony attended by the President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron and the Prime Minister of the Croatian Republic Andrej Plenković, the French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly and the Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier signed today in Zagreb, with the Croatian Minister of Defense Mario Banozic, two contracts for the acquisition of 12 Rafale fighters and associated logistics support.

Rafale
Croatia and France finalize Rafale acquisition

The state-to-state contract mainly covers the transfer of 12 Rafale fighters from the French Air Force along with their equipment, as well as a training service for the Croatian Air Force.

The logistics support contract covers all support resources, including additional spare parts for these aircraft, over a three-year period.

The selection of the Rafale, announced on May 28, after an international tender involving European and American aircraft, reflects its technological and operational superiority, as well as the excellent work done by the team «France» to consolidate its position in the European air forces.

«I am delighted, on behalf of Dassault Aviation and its partners, to be entering into a relationship of trust with Croatia, a European country, and to be writing a new page for the Rafale, which I am certain will give the Croatian Air Force complete satisfaction, while actively contributing to the exercise of Croatia’s national sovereignty», said Eric Trappier after the signing ceremony.

Global F-16 Program

PZL Mielec, a Lockheed Martin company and one of Poland’s longest established aircraft manufacturers, is to be a manufacturing partner for one of the world’s most successful fighter aircraft programs. Beginning next year, PZL Mielec will build components and assemblies for the latest generation F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70/72, sustaining around 200 jobs, with approximately 60 new jobs being created.

F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70/72
PZL Mielec to manufacture major assemblies for global F-16 Fighting Falcon program

This development marks a significant new milestone for PZL Mielec, which was last involved in the production of fighter aircraft in the 1960s.

Beginning next year, PZL Mielec will manufacture the rear fuselage, center fuselage, cockpit structure, cockpit side panel and forward equipment bay for new production F-16s, exporting the aerostructures to Lockheed Martin’s final assembly line in Greenville, South Carolina.

«Today’s announcement underlines our commitment to PZL Mielec and to growing Lockheed Martin’s industrial footprint in Poland, where we currently employ around 1,600 people directly and sustain work for more than 5,000 others in the Polish supply chain», says Robert Orzylowski, Lockheed Martin director for Poland, Central and East Europe.

«During our 20+ year strategic partnership with Poland, we’ve delivered technology transfer, research and development opportunities, long-term sustainable high technology jobs, growth and exports», Orzylowski adds. «Poland’s acquisition of the F-35 opened the door for a further expansion of this relationship and helped enable today’s exciting announcement».

With orders already secured for the F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70/72 from five customers, global interest remains high for new-build production aircraft and for F-16V Fighting Falcon upgrades.

Poland has operated F-16s in its own fleet for the past 15 years, and this summer marked a 100,000 flight-hour milestone.

«The F-16 Fighting Falcon remains a critical part of the Polish Air Force», says Danya Trent, Lockheed Martin vice president, F-16 Fighting Falcon program. «This new production work at PZL Mielec will further ensure Poland is part of the F-16 Fighting Falcon global enterprise for many years to come».

Beyond the F-16 Fighting Falcon, Poland is also procuring 32 F-35s, the first of which will be delivered in 2024. The complementary capabilities and interoperability between both fighter aircraft types serves to strengthen Poland’s airpower capabilities and enables partnerships across missions, training, equipment and tactics with other NATO members.

Britain’s flagship

HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) has welcomed fighter jets from a third allied nation on to her flight deck after working with the Italian Navy and Air Force.

HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08)
Third nation’s F-35B Lightning II lands on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s deck in milestone moment

Britain’s flagship is currently in the Mediterranean following months in the Indo-Pacific region as part of her global deployment.

As she heads west back to the UK, the ship has continued her busy programme of working with allied nations and partners.

The latest series of exercises saw HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) work with Italian F-35B Lightning II stealth jets.

They are the same B variant as the joint Royal Air Force (RAF)/Royal Navy and U.S. Marine Corps stealth fighter currently embarked in the Portsmouth-based UK flagship. Italy is the only other NATO partner aside from the U.S. and UK to operate that variant.

The landings and takings off by the Italians means HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) has now hosted jets from three different countries since leaving home in May, with the Italians the first European NATO partner to land on the UK flagship’s flight deck.

«The fact that U.S., Italian and UK F-35Bs Lightning II are able to fly to and from one another’s decks offers tactical agility and strategic advantage to NATO», said Royal Navy Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group. «Today’s activity is a telling demonstration of the ability of the UK’s flagship to work seamlessly with other nations; Italy is the third nation to land an F-35B Lightning II on to the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) and the seventh military operating F-35B Lightning II aircraft that the UK’s Carrier Strike Group has exercised with on CSG21!»

Earlier during their deployment, HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) and her jets trained with the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) Carrier Strike Group and her impressive air wing in the Pacific Ocean, which includes the traditional carrier variant, F-35C Lightning II – launched by catapult.

The UK carrier also conducted multi-carrier exercises with the French Carrier FS Charles de Gaulle (R91), the USS Essex (LHD-2), USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), the Japanese Carrier JS Ise (DDH-182) and the Japanese A variant of the F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter.

HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) and her task group, including Type 45 destroyers HMS Defender and Diamond, Type 23 frigates HMS Kent (F78) and HMS Richmond (F239), Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships RFA Fort Victoria (A387) and RFA Tidespring (A136).

Weapon System

Lockheed Martin and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd., of Israel, signed an expanded teaming agreement, allowing the team to jointly develop, market, manufacture and support Rafael’s Smart, Precise Impact and Cost-Effective (SPICE) 250 weapon system for sale in the United States and in Poland. This agreement marks the first time SPICE 250 is available for sale to the U.S. military.

SPICE 250
SPICE 250, pictured on the left-wing station of an F-16 Fighting Falcon, increases range, lethality and precision without the need for GPS

The addition of SPICE 250 builds on a 2019 teaming agreement, where Lockheed Martin and Rafael agreed to jointly market SPICE 1000 and SPICE 2000 guidance kits for U.S. sale.

SPICE is a family of stand-off, autonomous, air-to-surface weapon systems that provide affordable precision in a GPS-denied environment. The combat-proven SPICE family of products includes two guidance kits, SPICE 1000 and SPICE 2000, as well as an all-up round, known as SPICE 250.

«Lockheed Martin’s deep expertise in weapon system integration will help us adapt SPICE 250 to meet U.S. standards», said Dave Pantano, Lockheed Martin program director. «We’re excited to leverage this experience and offer this unique, proven weapon system to aircraft operators for additional mission flexibility where it’s needed most».

In use since 2003, SPICE is combat-proven and in service with the Israeli Air Force and several other nations worldwide. It enables maximum loadout on F-16’s and F-15’s, reduces pilot workload, and provides multiple strike capability against multiple target types.

«GPS is not required to operate any of the products within the SPICE family, allowing for operations in a variety of locations and adverse environments», said Alon Shlomi, Rafael Air to Surface Directorate vice president. «By expanding our teaming agreement with Lockheed Martin, we’re able to offer the entire product portfolio to the U.S. military – providing warfighters with the opportunity to enhance mission flexibility».

Block III F/A-18

The U.S. Navy accepted delivery of the first new-production Block III F/A-18 Super Hornet on August 31.

F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III
The U.S. Navy’s F/A-18F Block III Super Hornet takes to the skies over St. Louis, Missouri, where 78 Block IIIs will be built by The Boeing Company (Photo courtesy of The Boeing Company)

The first of 78 new Super Hornets built by The Boeing Company was ferried to Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, for continued developmental testing. The next few Block III jets to leave the production line will head to VX-9, at Naval Air Weapons Station (NAWS) China Lake, California, to start training for operational testing, during which the aircraft will undergo evaluation in scenarios that mimic operational missions.

Since accepting delivery of Block III test jets last summer, VX-23 and VX-31, at NAWS China Lake, have put the latest configuration of the multi-mission strike fighter through its paces.

«The new aircraft has successfully completed Carrier Suitability Testing, and a comprehensive evaluation of the new Block III mission system components is now underway», said Bob David, the F/A-18 Super Hornet & EA-18G Growler Program Office’s (PMA-265) Assistant Program Manager for Test and Evaluation.

VX-23 conducted shake, rattle and roll testing, which mimics the aircraft carrier environment to ensure the aircraft and each new system installed can withstand the intense forces of both a catapult-assisted launch and a ship-based arrested landing. The Block III test jet successfully completed this multi-test point challenge in January.

«Scrutinizing these new systems in a test environment ahead of fielding to our warfighter is very important and allows the Navy to make sure the delivered system meets the requirements provided to the manufacturing contractor and that our fleet is receiving an effective, interoperable and sustainable aircraft that will support the mission», David explained.

The comprehensive testing conducted by the U.S. Navy, to date, provides a high level of risk reduction, allowing refinements to be made and integrated into the production jets’ hardware and software updates. Developmental and operational testing will continue through early summer next year. Boeing is contracted to deliver two Block III aircraft, per month, through the end of calendar year 2024.

The Block III Super Hornet brings several new capabilities to the fleet and enables the F/A-18 Super Hornet to remain the backbone of carrier-based aviation power projection. Improvements making Block III the most lethal and survivable F/A-18 Super Hornet in operation include an advanced cockpit with new, aircrew-configurable displays, advanced networking, radar signature enhancements, and a 10,000-hour service life. Additionally, the Block III’s design provides expeditious growth capacity and enables ease of integration of future technologies, allowing the Super Hornet to outpace adversaries in today’s dynamic threat environment.

Commenting on the significance of the Block III production deliveries now underway, PMA-265 Program Manager Captain Jason Denney said, «The development and integration of Block III capabilities, to include both hardware and software, has been a complex undertaking. With the simultaneous efforts to integrate these capabilities into our new production aircraft as well as develop the retrofit kits and technical directives for incorporation into Block II aircraft during Service Life Modification, the Naval Aviation Enterprise team, as well as our industry partners, have performed tremendously to bring these capabilities online safely and efficiently».

Denney added, «We are excited to see new production deliveries rolling off the line in St. Louis, and are eagerly watching as the jets continue through developmental and operational test programs. Our F/A-18 team continues to test, refine and improve the program, ensuring we deliver the most lethal, reliable and sustainable strike fighter to meet the fleet’s needs».

Mission with F-35C

The U.S. Navy and Boeing have used the MQ-25TM T1 test asset to refuel a U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II fighter jet for the first time, once again demonstrating the aircraft’s ability to achieve its primary aerial refueling mission.

MQ-25 Stingray
Boeing’s MQ-25 T1 test asset transfers fuel to a U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II fighter jet Sept. 13 during a flight-test mission. The U.S. Navy and Boeing have conducted three refueling flights in the past three months, including an F/A-18 Super Hornet and E-2D Hawkeye (Kevin Flynn photo)

This was the third refueling mission for the Boeing-owned test asset in just over three months, advancing the test program for the U.S. Navy’s first operational carrier-based unmanned aircraft. T1 refueled an F/A-18 Super Hornet in June and an E-2D Hawkeye in August.

«Every test flight with another Type/Model/Series aircraft gets us one step closer to rapidly delivering a fully mission-capable MQ-25 Stingray to the fleet», said Captain Chad Reed, the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Aviation program manager. «Stingray’s unmatched refueling capability is going to increase the U.S. Navy’s power projection and provide operational flexibility to the Carrier Strike Group commanders».

During a test flight September 13, an F-35C Lightning II test pilot from the U.S. Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) conducted a successful wake survey behind T1 to ensure performance and stability before making contact with T1’s aerial refueling drogue and receiving fuel.

«This flight was yet another physical demonstration of the maturity and stability of the MQ-25 Stingray aircraft design», said Dave Bujold, Boeing’s MQ-25 Stingray program director. «Thanks to this latest mission in our accelerated test program, we are confident the MQ-25 Stingray aircraft we are building right now will meet the U.S. Navy’s primary requirement – delivering fuel safely to the carrier air wing».

The T1 flight test program began in September 2019 with the aircraft’s first flight. In the following two years, the test program completed more than 120 flight hours – gathering data on everything from aircraft performance to propulsion dynamics to structural loads and flutter testing for strength and stability.

MQ-25 Stingray is benefitting from the two years of early flight test data, which has been integrated back into its digital models to strengthen the digital thread connecting aircraft design to production to test to operations and sustainment. Boeing is currently manufacturing the first two MQ-25 Stingray test aircraft.

T1 will be used to conduct a deck handling demonstration aboard a U.S. Navy carrier in the coming months to help advance the carrier integration progress.