Navy’s F-35C makes inaugural flight
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter  (JSF) Program achieved an important milestone yesterday, with the inaugural flight of the Navy’s carrier-based variant. The F-35C Lightning II is due to replace the Navy and Marine Corps’ F/A-18 Hornet.
According to Lockheed Martin , the first F-35C Lightning II carrier variant took off from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base at 11:46 a.m. and logged a 57 min flight. Flown by retired Naval Aviator and Test Pilot Jeff Knowles (an F-14A and F-14D vet), the 5th Generation Fighter encountered no serious errors—operationally that is.
While Vice Adm. Thomas J. Kilcline, Commander of Naval Air Forces, believes the flight marks “the beginning of a new chapter in Naval Aviation,” the JSF has been a lightning rod for controversy. With the F-35 serving so many roles (and replacing so many aircraft), you knew it’d ruffle a few feathers. From the beginning, some critics alleged  that the F-22 Raptor ’s superior dog-fighting capabilities (especially when matched against the forthcoming PAK-FA ) made the F-35 obsolete . Supporters of the JSF counter that the future portends further asymmetric, “fourth generation” warfare, which makes the F-22’s capabilities superfluous. Dog fights, according to this reasoning, are a relic of conventional, state-on-state warfare.
The JSF program has also been plagued with cost overruns. Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, originally claimed the F-35 would be “less than half the total cost of the F-22.” Since then, costs have creeped up…and up…and up. It got bad enough that Sec. Gates was forced to fire the JSF program manager . Major cost overruns recently passed “critical” thresholds, triggering a “Nunn–McCurdy Review .” The Nunn–McCurdy Amendment  relates to cost growth in defense systems, and requires congressional notification for cost increases of greater than 15%.
The latest figures  saddle the F-35 with a $92.5 million cradle-to-grave estimate; that’s the per-plane cost. The program is expected to cost as much as $382.4 billion.