F-35 JSF avionics test bed arrives at Edwards

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program's Cooperative Avionics Test Bed, or CATB, aircraft lands here March 1, 2007, to perform equipment fit checks. The aircraft is a Boeing 737-300 specially modified to perform mission systems testing for the F-35 program. (Photo by Chad Bellay)

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program's Cooperative Avionics Test Bed, or CATB, aircraft lands here March 1, 2007, to perform equipment fit checks. The aircraft is a Boeing 737-300 specially modified to perform mission systems testing for the F-35 program. (Photo by Chad Bellay)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program's Cooperative Avionics Test Bed aircraft landed here March 1 to perform equipment fit checks and verify the operation of Edwards facilities built specifically for the CATB. 

The CATB is a Boeing 737-300 specially modified to perform mission systems testing for the F-35 program. 

"It is a six-year program that will test all the F-35 systems at once for early risk reduction," said Mark Burke, CATB project manager. "Testing will be performed at various locations including Fort Worth (Texas), Eglin (Air Force Base, Fla.), Edwards, China Lake (Naval Air Station, Calif.) and Point Mugu (NAS, Calif). The tests will enable us to find avionics problems early and reduce the workload on the F-35. If there is a hardware or software problem, we will find it early." 

One flight on the CATB saves the F-35 an estimated four flights, Mr. Burke said. The avionics-test-bed flights will save the F-35 from flying about 300 missions. 

Extensive modifications were done to the CATB to accommodate the full array of avionics that will be installed on an F-35, said Retired Maj. Gen. Doug Pearson, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company F-35 Integrated Test Force vice president and former Air Force Flight Test Center commander. 

British Aerospace Systems and Lockheed Martin performed the modifications in Mojave, Calif., Mr. Pearson said. 

Lockheed completed the first round of modifications and put the entire infrastructure in the airplane. 

"We've been flying for the last six weeks and concluded that the aircraft is airworthy," Mr. Pearson said. 

The modifications to the CATB include a sensor wing ahead of the 737 main wing as well as added structures on top and bottom of the aircraft to accommodate other JSF avionics systems, Mr. Pearson said. The front of the airplane has a modified nose representing the F-35 nose. 

"We will also install the F-35's radar on the CATB and take the avionics test bed with the F-35 systems airborne so we can conduct testing in a fairly realistic flying environment," he said. 

The CATB aircraft returned to Fort Worth on March 2 to have further modifications made, Mr. Pearson said. 

"A lot of the testing will be flown out of Fort Worth," said Tim Cacanindin, Joint Strike Fighter Integrated Test Force mission systems lead engineer. "They have similar laboratories on the ground that will be involved in installing the F-35 avionics systems. The CATB will deploy to Edwards by the end of this year and periodically after that. 

"Testing will probably continue all the way through 2013 for the aircraft's system development and demonstration phase," he said. "Lockheed Martin hopes to keep flying the CATB well after that to continue developing new systems before they are installed on the F-35." 

The Boeing 737-300, Mr. Pearson said, was chosen for avionics testing for a number of reasons including the fact the aircraft can fly long ranges and is capable of carrying necessary equipment such as the F-35 systems. The aircraft will also accommodate 20 work stations inside for conducting tests. 

"An incredible amount of engineering work has gone into modifying the CATB," Mr. Cacanindin said. "I believe the CATB will be the most capable test bed developed for any fighter program. Most test beds only have some of the systems of a fighter. This aircraft almost exactly duplicates the F-35 avionics. 

"It will be a tremendous asset to the F-35 program," he said.
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