Proving the F-35's Capabilities

Extensive Ground and Air Trials

Joint military and contractor teams extensively test all three variants of the F-35.

Flight Test

At Edwards Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Patuxent River, the Integrated Test Force teams are testing all three F-35 variants and their mission systems. Flight sciences aircraft testing continues to expand the edges of the F-35's flight envelope and enhance maneuverability within the boundaries. Mission systems test aircraft are flying with Block 2B software, which manages the F-35's datalink, various sensors and weapon capabilities. The critical work of the flight test teams clears the way for capability to be delivered to the training and operational F-35 fleets as they move closer to Initial Operational Capability.

Key flight test accomplishments to-date in the program include:

F-35 Mission Systems

  • Night Instrument Meteorological Conditions
  • Link-16 Communication for tactical data exchange between the F-35 and supporting forces with Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and multiple support aircraft 
  • Countermeasures Separations
  • Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) Combat Laser Testing 
  • Distributed Aperture System (DAS) and Night Vision Camera testing, including operation during F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing mode night missions
  • Weapon Delivery Accuracy tests: GBU-32, GBU-12, AIM-120


  • Completed clean wing flutter testing reaching speeds of 1.6 Mach and 700 knots with weapon bay doors open and closed
  • Night flight and night aerial refueling
  • Completed high angle of attack testing with external stores
  • Completed intentional departure testing with symmetric external air-to-air stores
  • Accomplished first high alpha tail slides
  • Inert weapon releases: GBU-31, GBU-12, AIM-120


  • Flown to 1.5 Mach
  • Night flight and night vertical landing
  • Slow landing in short takeoff/vertical landing mode with external stores and 25mm gun pod
  • Two instances of developmental test ship suitability testing on the USS Wasp in 2011 and 2013
  • Inert weapon releases: GBU-32, GBU-12, AIM-120


Ground and Lab Tests

Six static airframes, dozens of integrated ground test labs and several specialized test facilities are dedicated to the System Development and Demonstration phase of the F-35 program. The static aircraft undergo exhaustive structural testing to prove the strength of the airframe design. The labs test all software updates before they are flight tested, an important step for the millions of lines of complex code required to control F-35 flight systems, integrate missions systems and support the Autonomic Logistics Information System.