HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Since it probably won’t be of much use on the ground, F-35 testers at the Pentagon decided to give the jet’s gun a try in the air.
The Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II completed its first series of air gunfire tests in October at the China Lake Weapons Range in Kern County, California. F-35 program officials said the successful tests represent a second consecutive triumph for the jet’s gun, which has been hampered by software issues and once rumored to be years away from becoming operational.
In August, successful tests were completed on the F-35’s four-barrel, 25 millimeter Gatling at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., but those tests were done on the ground.
Joe DellaVedova, the Pentagon’s F-35 spokesman, said that since the initial testing in the summer, program officials have spent the last three months observing the gun’s performance on the ground to prepare for testing in the air.
“The (in-air test) was a culmination of several years (of) planning, which intensified in the first half of 2015,” said Mike Glass, Edwards flight test director, in a press release. “The results of this testing will be used in future blocks of testing, where the accuracy and mission effectiveness capabilities will be evaluated.”
DellaVedova said the latest air tests didn’t include hitting targets, but that will eventually occur, with tests to come in several different flight conditions and aircraft configurations.
As the Air Force’s first operation F-35 site, Hill Air Force Base has been conducting training flights with the F-35 since September, but those flights don’t involve firing the plane’s gun.
According to the Pentagon, the 25mm gun is implanted inside the F-35A’s left wing, part of an overall design scheme that makes the plane hard to observe by enemy forces. The gun allows pilots to fire at targets both in the air and on the ground.
DellaVedova said guns on production F-35As will be tested next year. Those tests will track the gun’s effectiveness when used with the new fighter jet’s “sensor fusion software,” which gives pilots targeting information through a helmet-mounted display.
According to DellaVedova, the gun will be fully operational by 2017