The US Air Force has completed the first flight of an F-35 fighter in the Technology Refresh 3 (TR-3) configuration, which will enhance pilot safety, introduce new electronic warfare capabilities and weapons load-out options, among other upgrades.
A developmental test team from the 461st Flight Test Squadron conducted the first flight at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on January 6.
Maj. Ryan “BOLO” Luersen, a US Air Force experimental test pilot, piloted the mission in tail number AF-7, a specially instrumented flight test aircraft and the first with TR-3 upgrades installed.
He executed a functional check flight (FCF) profile to verify aircraft airworthiness and system stability. The 50-minute flight, which took the jet to 35,000 feet at speeds just shy of the speed of sound above the Mojave Desert, marked the start of an extensive flight test campaign. Developmental and operational test flights will continue through 2023 to ensure safety and prove warfighting capabilities.
“This is a significant achievement for the F-35 program, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Schmidt, program executive officer, F-35 Joint Program Office. “TR-3 is the F-35’s critical computer processing electronics upgrade that will continue to provide all our pilots with the capability they need to be successful against any adversary. There is still a lot of work to do and I am confident that our industry partners and government team will get the job done.”
TR-3 provides the computational horsepower to support modernized Block 4 capabilities for the F-35 including: new sensor suites, more long-range precision weapons, improved electronic warfare features, more powerful data fusion, and increased cross-platform interoperability.
TR-3 significantly updates core processing power and memory capacity, which will allow the F-35 to run advanced software packed with warfighting capabilities.
“The F-35 Integrated Test Force at Edwards AFB is proud to have executed yet another first-flight within the F-35 program,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Christopher Campbell, commander of the 461st Flight Test Squadron and director of the F-35 Integrated Test Force. “Technology Refresh 3 modernizes the computational core of the F-35 air vehicle. Therefore, new TR-3 hardware and software affect nearly every aircraft feature. Today’s event was just the start of a comprehensive flight test campaign that will both verify and improve the safety, stability, and performance of the whole F-35 weapon system in this new configuration.”
“Today’s first flight is an important step in enabling future capabilities to ensure F-35 remains unrivaled across the globe. We look forward to continued collaboration with the JPO and industry partners to deliver TR-3,” said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager, F-35 Program. “Our mission is to provide our U.S. service members and allies with an aircraft that will guarantee 21st Century security so they can deter and defeat threats and come home safely.”
According to the service, the TR-3 program has overcome technical complexity challenges with hardware and software, and is now on-track to deliver capability to the US and its allies starting in 2023. Lessons learned in the execution of the TR-3 program will be applied across the entire Block 4 modernization program, it was further said.
According to its fiscal year 2022 budget request, the air force plans to modify 148 of the already fielded F-35As to the TR-3 configuration, while the US Navy is committed to TR-3 and Block 4 upgrades for all aircraft in its inventory.