F-35 testing at Edwards Air Force Base

It's destined to be the new workhorse fighter of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, but the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and the Joint Strike Fighter program could cost American taxpayers nearly $1.5 trillion over its projected 50-year lifespan.
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, CA - It's destined to be the new workhorse fighter of the Air Force, Navy, and Marines, but the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and the Joint Strike Fighter program could cost American taxpayers nearly $1.5 trillion over its projected 50-year lifespan.

In 2001, the Pentagon asked Lockheed Martin to build a next generation fighter, but it had to have three variants: a traditional runway style takeoff for the Air Force, a jump jet Harrier style version for the Marines, and a carrier version for the Navy.

"The combination of stealth, to be able to get into that dangerous area that is defended by ground systems and to be able to employ the weapons and hit a target, is the revolutionary capability the F-35 brings to the fight," said Air Force Col. Rod Cregier, F-35 Program Director at Edwards Air Force Base.

Stealth not only to protect the aircraft, but the thousand pound bombs it will carry.

"As a stealth aircraft you to want to have internal weapons carriage because if you carry external weapons you are not in a stealthy configuration," Cregier said.

Not only will the F-35 be used by the U.S. Military, the fighter will also be sold to at least nine allied countries with more possibly in the future. That requires a lot of software to be tested at Edwards before the jets are ready for sale.

"The nice thing is not only will we be able to operate very well in between the services, but also with our international partners so that now we are all talking the same language. The jets can be all on the same data link,” Cregier said. “They can be all supporting each other when it comes to a conflict."

Some of the items they are testing at Edwards include a new fighter pilot helmet. It costs a quarter of million dollars, but inside it has technology that gives a pilot a competitive edge.

Also by having night vision built-in to the helmet, it lets the pilot eject safely without catching a piece of equipment.

"The seat has an airbag that goes around the pilot's neck,” Cregier said. “So it inflates to protect the pilot's head from going left or right and that's a new feature I haven't seen in any other fighter jet before."

In addition to helmet and software testing for the aircraft, Technical Sergeants Steve Muro and Nick Lage monitor quality control. Both grew up in Bakersfield and still live in Kern County.

"In my job I am able to catch those things and make those changes now and help influence the future of these aircraft," Muro said.

"It's wonderful being close to home and working on the most advanced technology in the world, and it makes me very proud," Lage said.

The F-35 will reportedly be fully operational soon, and the U.S Marine Corps will be the first branch to receive the jet in 2015.
 
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