The Defense Department’s $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter just took an important step toward actually being able to fight in combat one day.
A U.S. Air Force version of the plane successfully fired its internal gun for the first time in flight during an October 30 test at Edwards Air Force Base in California, the effort’s joint program office said in a statement.
“It was the first airborne gunfire for the F-35,” Maj. Charles Trickey, the fight’s test pilot, said in a video released by Lockheed Martin. “Just going out there today to make sure the functionality, loads, vibro-acoustics -- all that stuff worked. And it absolutely did, it went about as smooth as you could have expected on the first flight.”
The fighter’s four-barrel, 25-millimeter Gatling gun squeezed off three bursts, one with 30 rounds and two others with 60 rounds each, according to the office.
The inaugural airborne test marked the first in a series of trial runs the gun will undergo in the coming months. Officials already ran it through its paces while the plane was parked on the ground, and now they’ll look to see how it performs for air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.
The F-35’s gun is slated to be operational in 2017, near the end of its system development and demonstration phase, the program office said.
The successful test is good news for the F-35 program. The effort recently encountered another snag when testers discovered the fifth-generation plane’s ejection seat could cause fatal whiplash for pilots weighing under 136 pounds, despite the fact that the seat was designed to handle any pilot weighing between 103 and 245 pounds.
Air Force leaders expect the seat’s manufacturer, Martin-Baker, to pay for the fix. However it could take anywhere from a year to 18 months to implement, Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35’s program chief, told Congress last month.