The conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) variant of the F-35 Australia is acquiring has become the first variant to successfully complete three lifetimes of full scale durability testing.
Since 2010, the AJ-1 CTOL airframe has undergone testing at BAE Systems in the United Kingdom for structural faults over three lifetimes-equivalents to 24,000 hours or 90 years of flying.
Squadron Leader (SQNLDR) Jason Taghaode, the former Air Vehicle Lead in the Joint Strike Fighter Division, part of Capability Acquisition and Sustainment Group, said no major faults were identified during the testing.
“Developed with the assistance of computer software, the testing confirmed the aircraft can withstand the significant forces experienced by a fighter during flight, well beyond its designed service life of 8000 hours,” SQNLDR Taghaode said.
Through the use of 165 pneumatic load rams, the test aircraft was subjected to forces equivalent to those typically experienced in flight.
“Some minor issues were discovered, such as cracks in noncritical structure, which will lead to improvements to the overall aircraft structural design.”
Marcus McDonald, the F-35 Air Vehicle Science Team Leader in Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group, said the durability test achieved two technical world firsts.
“In addition to being the first full-scale airframe test to have been surveyed by infra-red cameras to de-risk the test schedule, it was also the first full-scale airframe test to apply whole-of-airframe fracture surface bar-coded marker-band technology,” Mr McDonald said.
“This allows for rapid post-test forensics.”
The test aircraft is now being separated into individual components to detect the presence of any cracking, which will inform where design changes are required to ensure the aircraft meets its lifecycle capability requirements.