Despite criticism in the U.S. regarding escalating costs, which has seen the Pentagon's bill for a planned 2,443 F-35s going from US$233 billion to $385 billion, Lockheed Martin is pressing ahead with tests of the world's only fifth generation jet fighter. It's been over six years since the first F-35 took to the air for the first time and one and a half years since the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant broke the sound barrier for the first time. Now the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant has completed the first night flight in the history of the F-35 program.

The maiden night flight took place on Wednesday at Edwards Air Force Base in California with Lockheed Martin Test Pilot Mark Ward at the controls. Ward took off at 5:05 p.m. PST, took in the sunset which occurred at 5:23 p.m., before landing the aircraft at 6:22 p.m. During the flight, Ward performed a series of straight in approaches in twilight and darkness and performed an evaluation of the F-35's cockpit lighting - which he described as the best he's ever seen. Lockheed Martin says the maiden night flight paves the way for night refueling and formation testing later this year.

Video of the F-35A's first night flight appears below.

Source: Lockheed Martin