The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation, single-seat multirole fighter jet with stealth technology. A true multirole fighter, it is able to undertake both air and ground assault missions, as well as reconnaissance tasks. It has three distinct variants: the F-35C, a carrier-based version; the F-35B, a short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version; and the F-35A, which takes off and lands in a conventional manner.
The Lightning II is derived from the Lockheed Martin X-35, which was the end result of the Joint Strike Fighter program. Joint Strike Fighter was an international effort between the US and its closest allies, and as such the F-35 is more of a collaborative project than many comparable fighter jets. The international consortium of companies working on it is headed up by Lockheed Martin.
As of early 2013, the F-35 is still not in active service. It first flew in 2006, but currently in limited production only. When it is eventually introduced, the US Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force plan to purchase 2,443 F-35s, replacing the majority of the US military’s current fighter contingent. The other Joint Strike Fighter nations also have options on the F-35, with the UK, Italy and Canada amongst those who may elect to take the plane on.
The F-35B is particularly notable for its propulsion system. This STOVL variant of the plane is fitted with the Rolls Royce LiftSystem, a specially designed nozzle on its Pratt & Whitney F135 engine which allows it to angle thrust directly downwards in a similar way to the now-obsolete Harrier GR8. The LiftSystem is significant in that it renders the F-35B the first supersonic STOVL plane. However, the complexities of the system mean that the F-35B has a fuel capacity one third less than the conventional takeoff F-35A.
The F-35 is armed with a General Dynamics GAU-22/A Equalizer gatling cannon, and can be further equipped with a range of missiles and bombs on its 6 wing-mounted and four internal hardpoints. Compatible weapon systems include the AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missile, the AGM-154 JSOW air-to-surface missile, the JSM anti-ship missile and the B61 nuclear bomb.
- Maximum speed: Mach 1.6+ (1,200 mph, 1,930 km/h) (Tested to Mach 1.61)
- Range: 1,200 nmi (2,220 km) on internal fuel
- Combat radius: 584 nmi (1,080 km) on internal fuel
- Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,288 m) (Tested to 43,000 ft)
- Rate of climb: classified (not publicly available)
- Wing loading: 91.4 lb/ft² (446 kg/m²; 526 kg/m2 loaded)
- With full fuel: 0.87
- With 50% fuel: 1.07
- g-Limits: 9 g (Only 4.6g in a sustained turn.)