The first aircraft in history to combine stealth with short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) capability and supersonic speed has been delivered to the Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., where it will conduct its first hovers and vertical landings. The Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II STOVL stealth fighter will replace U.S. Marine Corps AV-8B STOVL fighters, F/A-18 strike fighters and EA-6B electronic attack aircraft, and will also be used by the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy and the Italian Air Force and Navy.

There are three different models of the F-35. The F-35A is the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant is the smallest and lightest F-35 version and is the only variant equipped with an internal cannon, the GAU-22/A. It is intended for the US Air Force (USAF) and other air forces, but is primarily intended to replace the USAF’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, beginning in 2013, and to replace the A-10 Thunderbolt II starting in 2028.

The F-35C is the carrier variant of the craft that will feature larger control surfaces for improved low-speed control, and stronger landing gear and hook for the stresses of carrier landings. It will also feature a larger, folding wing that allows for decreased landing speed, increased range and payload, with twice the range on internal fuel compared with the F/A-18C Hornet. It will be used solely by the US Navy and is expected to be available beginning in 2014.

The F-35B is similar in size to the A variant, but sacrifices some fuel volume to make room for the vertical flight system. The F-35B incorporates a counter-rotating shaft-driven lift fan positioned directly behind the cockpit. The lift fan, produced by Rolls-Royce, is turned by a drive shaft from the F-35’s massively powerful single engine, which features a swiveling rear exhaust nozzle that vectors thrust downward during vertical flight. The lift fan, engine and stabilizing roll ducts beneath the F-35B’s wings combine to produce 40,000 pounds of lifting force. Converting the F-35B from STOVL to conventional flight and vice-versa requires only the push of a button by the pilot. The system otherwise operates automatically.

With the capability to operate from a variety of ships or austere runways, the F-35B is designed to be deployed closer to shore or near front lines, shrinking distance and time to the target, increasing sortie rates and greatly reducing the need for support assets. Its internal fuel capacity of seven tons provides an unfueled range of more than 900 miles without external tanks. The F-35B is the first aircraft in history to combine stealth with STOVL capability and supersonic speed and will be the first of the three Lightning II variants to achieve Initial Operational Capability, beginning with the Marines in 2012.

Known as BF-1, the aircraft piloted to Patuxent River by Lockheed Martin F-35 Chief Test Pilot Jon Beesley will be the first F-35 to be sustained by ALIS – the worldwide support system that will monitor the prognostics and health of F-35s around the globe to ensure mission readiness. The ferry flight initiates a sequence of F-35 arrivals at Patuxent River this year and next.