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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 December 2006, 11:08 GMT
First flight for future fighter
Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter
US defence giant Lockheed Martin is heading the project
The world's most expensive military project, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, is expected to take to the skies for its maiden test flight next week.

The $276.5bn (140bn) Anglo-American stealth fighter project will supply the armed forces of the US, Britain and several other countries.

The US will account for the lion's share of the Lockheed Martin-designed plane, with 2,400 in service by 2027.

Britain's BAE Systems is one of the key players in the aircraft's development.

BAE has pumped $2bn into the project, with the UK expected to take delivery of 138 fighters.

Supersonic

Marine Brigadier General David Heinz said the maiden test flight of production version of the Joint Strike Fighter would take place in Fort Worth, Texas. Prototypes of the F-35 have already taken to the air.

Lockheed Joint Strike Fighter
Britain's BAE systems is a key player in the project

"I am optimistic that we will see the airplane fly as early as Monday," said Brig Gen Heinz, the Pentagon programme office's deputy director.

He said the planned 60-minute test flight of the F-35 would go ahead on the day, weather conditions permitting.

The single-engine, supersonic fighter, each of which will cost in the region of $45m, is designed to replace the US's aging F-16s and F/A-18 Hornets.

In Britain, a jump-jet version of the F-35 will be deployed by the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

Along with the US and Britain, the F-35 is being co-financed by Australia, Canada, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

Despite heavy cost overruns, Brig Gen Heinz said he expected all the contributing partners to place orders for the jet, taking combined purchases for the F-35 to 3,100 aircraft.

In August, UK jet engine firm Rolls-Royce won a 1.3bn deal to develop a second engine for the fighter.


SEE ALSO
JSF: The last manned fighter?
26 Oct 01 |  Business
Rolls-Royce wins stealth contract
23 Aug 05 |  Business

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