Lockheed Martin's Cooperative Avionics Test Bed, or "CATBird," has begun in-flight integration and verification of the F-35 Lightning II mission systems suite, the company announced Monday. The CATBird, a modified 737, will test the avionics suite for several months before the complete system begins flying in an F-35. The entire F-35 avionics system is set for airborne testing in the CATBird in 2009, the company said.
The company said the CATBird's 40th flight Nov. 25 was its first configured as a complete classified mission systems laboratory. All test objectives were met in the 2.4 hour sortie. "We were able to transmit using the radar for 23 minutes and selected six different TACAN (tactical control and navigation) stations, with data displayed on the F-35 cockpit that resides in the CATBird," said Eric Branyan, Lockheed Martin vice president of F-35 Air System Development. "The results matched our predictions." The first Lightning II aircraft to fly with the full avionics package will be a short takeoff/vertical landing F-35B, called BF-4. All previous F-35 test aircraft are "flight sciences" aircraft, designed to validate the fighter's aerodynamic performance. BF-4 is the first F-35 "mission systems" aircraft and is scheduled to make its first flight in mid-2009.