F-35 ITF’s Dual Capable Aircraft Team wins national aviation award

  • Published
  • By Giancarlo Casem
  • 412th Test Wing Public Affairs

Representatives from the F-35 Integrated Test Force’s Dual Aircraft Capable Team received the prestigious Col. Franklin C. Wolfe Weapons Systems Award during presentation ceremony at the Joint Program Office headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Feb. 16.

Order of Daedalians Chairman of the Board Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Nicholas B. Kehoe presented the award along with Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, F35 Joint Program Executive Officer. Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. selected the DCA team for their work in completing developmental testing of the F-35A to pair with the B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb.

“I am immensely proud of the ITF for winning this recognition, but I am not at all surprised,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Campbell, F-35 ITF Director & 461st Flight Test Squadron Commander. “The Secretary of Defense prioritized the transformation of the F-35A into a ‘dual-capable aircraft,’ such that it can deliver the B61 tactical nuclear weapon, at the top of his strategic needs.” 

The F-35 ITF executed nine ground and 19 flight tests during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, collecting 492 critical nuclear certification test points. The ITF’s work during this time culminated a three-year, 87-flight, 198-flight-hour developmental test campaign one year ahead of schedule, Campbell added.

The successful execution of this test program reinforced the Secretary of Defense’s promise to deliver F-35A nuclear capability to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization by January 2024, Campbell said. 

“America and her Allies are depending on this integration of tactical nuclear weapons with stealthy fifth-generation fighter aircraft to deter adversaries from initiating violent conflict,” Campbell explained. “The pairing gives combatant commanders, and ultimately our Commander in Chief, far greater flexibility in the application of military power.”

The DCA Program Manager, Lt. Col. Jason Shirley attributed the team’s success to “alignment.”

“Without teamwork, we would have never been able to accelerate our schedule and overcome the COVID challenges that we faced as a team,” Shirley said. “Without having alignment with the nuclear stakeholders, we would have never been able to work together as a collective team to execute our accelerated developmental flight test campaign.”

The Order of the Daedalians is a professional order of American pilots initially organized in 1934 by a group of American World War I pilots. Today, the Order advocates for American air and space power, flight safety and an esprit de corps in military air forces. The Order’s philanthropic arm, the Daedalian Foundation, awards scholarships for young men and women with a desire to pursue a military aviation career.

The Wolfe Weapons System Award is presented to individuals or organizations who have achieved exceptional weapons system development. The award is named after Col. Franklin C. Wolfe who served as assistant chief and then chief of the Armament Laboratory of the Army Air Forces Materiel Command, the predecessor to Air Force Materiel Command, from 1939 to 1944. This year’s win is the second Wolfe award in the F-35’s history.

In 2018, F-35C Joint Strike Fighter Wing out of Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, received the F-35 enterprise’s first Wolfe Systems Award. The F-35’s second award is a significant step in the Lightning II’s relatively short lifespan so far.

“The F-35 is maturing into an incredibly capable and versatile weapons system. It has come a long way since I was a line F-35 test pilot in 2017 during the jet’s System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase,” Campbell said. “All three variants of the aircraft, which are all tested at the Edwards ITF, now bring unprecedented lethality and promise superior survivability in our toughest air missions: the destruction of enemy air defense, defensive and offensive counter-air, and penetrating strike.”

Following the developmental phase, the DCA team will continue to further develop the F-35’s nuclear capabilities with an overall goal of nuclear certification in January 2024, while the rest of the F-35 ITF at Edwards AFB continues to advance and enhance the Lightning II.

“I project that the F-35 will grow into an even more capable system thanks to new software, sensors, and weapons over the rest of this decade,” Campbell said.