November 18, 2008 Lockheed Martin has promised that its fifth gen F-35 fighter will allow pilots to “do things that were previously considered impossible, and to think things that were previously unthinkable.” Almost two years after its maiden flight, the F-35 Lightning II has reached another development milestone – supersonic flight. Test pilot Jon Beesley accelerated the F-35 AA-1 to Mach 1.05, with a full internal load of dummy weapons.

During the 69th flight of the AA-1, Beesley climbed to 30,000 feet and accomplished four transitions through the sound barrier, spending a total of eight minutes in supersonic flight. Future test flights will take the F-35 to its maximum speed of Mach 1.6.

“The F-35 transitioned from subsonic to supersonic just as our engineers and our computer modeling had predicted,” said Jon Beesley, Lockheed Martin’s chief F-35 test pilot. “I continue to be impressed with the aircraft’s power and strong acceleration, and I’m pleased that its precise handling qualities are retained in supersonic flight, even with a payload of 5,400 pounds (2,450 kilograms) in the weapons bays.”

The F-22 Raptor, introduced in 2005, is considered to be the first of the fifth generation of fighter aircraft. The new breed is characterized by greatly improved computer and radar systems, and more sophisticated stealth, providing a “first-look, first-shot, first-kill capability.” The F-35 is the most powerful single-engine fighter in history, and has three variants. The AA-1 is the smallest and lightest of the models, and is designed for conventional takeoff and landing. It is scheduled to replace the F-16 Fighting Falcons in 2013.