The Pentagon's costliest acquisition project, the F-35 Lightning 2 Joint Strike Fighter, safely completed its first test flight on Friday, advancing a $276.5 billion program financed by the United States and eight other countries.
"Aircraft has landed safely" after a test flight over Fort Worth, Texas, that lasted about 40 minutes, said Tom Jurkowsky, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin which is developing three models of the radar-evading, multi-role fighter jet in a major international cooperation effort.
The first version to fly was a conventional takeoff and landing model.
The United States' partners in the project are Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway.
The Pentagon plans to buy more than 2,400 F-35s by 2027 for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Britain is expected to buy 138.
Lockheed's top subcontractors on the aircraft are Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. Two separate, interchangeable F-35 engines are under development -- one built by United Technologies' Pratt & Whitney unit; the other by a team of General Electric and Rolls-Royce.
As early as 2010, the Pentagon expects to define an F-35 configuration for sale to even more countries through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
Current procurement projections are the basis for the F-35's estimated average unit cost of $45 million for the conventional model, to $60 million for one designed to land on aircraft carriers. A third jump-jet version, built for the Marine Corps, is designed for short takeoff and vertical landing.