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F-35 completes nuclear flight trials

Nuclear flight trials of the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) have been completed, paving the way for the type receiving its nuclear design certification.

The US Air Force (USAF) announced on 4 October that two F-35As from the 422nd and 59th Test and Evaluation Squadrons (TESs) recently released B61-12 (B61 Mod 12) Joint Test Assemblies (JTAs) during the first Full Weapon System Demonstration, completing the final flight test exercise.

“Once airborne, test pilots flew to the Tonopah Test Range [in Nevada] and released two B61-12 JTAs from operationally realistic flight envelopes. This event was the first release of the most representative B61-12 test asset from an operationally representative F-35A,” the USAF said.

As noted by the service, nuclear certification is broken into two phases. The first phase is nuclear design certification, with the second being nuclear operational certification. “This [latest] test is considered the graduation flight test exercise for the F-35A nuclear design certification and concludes on-aircraft testing for the initial nuclear certification effort,” the USAF said. “The test data received from this event is currently under analysis and review by the Department of Defense and Department of Energy to ensure the F-35A and B61-12 JTAs performed correctly throughout all phases of the operation.”

The F-35A is due to receive its B61-12 capability as part of the wider Block 4/Continuous Capability Development and Delivery (C2D2) upgrade that is designed to enable the aircraft to employ its full panoply of sensors and munitions.

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