After making its first successful vertical landing in 2010 and the first at sea in 2011 – both in the clear light of day – an F-35B Lightning II last week completed the first short takeoff and vertical landing under cover of darkness.

The April 2 test mission was piloted by Marine Corps test pilot Maj. C.R. Clift and took place at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland. The mission is one of a series of events being conducted in the lead up to the second of three scheduled at-sea test periods for the F-35B.

This is the warfighter variant that is intended for use by the U.S. Marine Corps and international partners in the U.K. and Italy. Its short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities are designed to enable the aircraft to provide air support for amphibious ships, ski-jump aircraft carriers and expeditionary airfields.

The successful flight test comes in the wake of a complete grounding of the entire F-35 fleet on February 22nd by the U.S. Department of Defense after a cracked turbine blade was discovered in a F-35A at Edwards Air Force Base. The grounding was lifted less than a week later when an investigation concluded that the cracks weren’t a fleetwide problem but the result of stressful testing for that particular engine.

The first night time vertical landing can be seen in the video below.

Source: Pratt & Whitney