The naval versions of the F-35 demonstrated their capabilities in a pretty public way in the past week. Last Thursday an F-35C was launched from the ground-based steam catapult at the U.S. Navy's test facility in Lakehurst, N.J. The test seemed to go as planned, with the aircraft leaping from the launch device despite the soaring temperatures in New Jersey last week. The Marine Corps also showed off the short-takeoff/vertical land variant (F-35B) they'll use.
In what appeared to be an attempt to counter criticism of the program and its escalating costs, the Marines invited reporters to see the airplane perform the way the Corps says it needs an airplane to perform. The big fighter took off in less than 450 feet and then landed vertically in front of the invited reporters and Marine brass in searing heat and brow-mopping humidity. The Marine variant is "on probation" for two years and the program has to prove its worth to Congress. Senior Marine officers say it's vital that the aircraft passes muster. "There is no Plan B," said Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos. "We need this airplane."