Big Boost For The Israeli Air Force With The Arrival Of 1st-Ever Test Variant Of Lockheed F-35-I ‘Adir’

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) got an exclusive opportunity to receive the test variant of the F-35I “Adir” that arrived at the Flight Testing Center (FTC) at Tel-Nof airbase, the “first test F-35 outside the United States of America”.

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The FTC squadron, also known as MANAT, has received the first fighter jet, equipped with advanced experimenting capabilities, in the last 14 years. 

The IAF currently possesses two squadrons of the F-35s, both based at Nevatim Air Force Base in southern Israel, making it the only country in the Middle East to operate the state-of-the-art stealthy fighters.

The ‘Adir’ is one of its kind as earlier, the only experimental F-35 models manufactured were aeromechanical testing aircraft of limited operational ability or testing models meant to examine specific systems. However, ‘Adir’ has advanced aeromechanical testing capabilities and full operational capabilities which can be converted to an operational aircraft.

“With the new addition of the ‘Adir’ to the lines of experimental aircraft in the Israeli Air Force’s FTC Squadron, we are witnessing a historic event, the magnitude of which cannot be underestimated – a meaningful cornerstone in the IAF’s inauguration and development of the F-35 division“, said Brig. Gen. Oded Cohen, Commander of Tel-Nof AFB at the induction ceremony.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Israeli procurement - Wikipedia
Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Israeli procurement – Wikipedia

“To the FTC Squadron personnel – the absorption of the ‘Adir’ poses new challenges. I have no doubt that by virtue of your skill and professional spirit you will know, as you have proven in the past, how to challenge the limits of the ‘Adir’s’ capabilities, and lead the IAF toward new horizons,” he added.

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The head of the IAF test center, Lieutenant Colonel Shlomy, had earlier told Flight Global, this test variant wasn’t a part of the F-35 contract but will enable the IAF to upgrade the capabilities of the aircraft to meet the “special operational requirements”. “All our platforms have been upgraded to enable stretching the flight envelope while using the unique weapon systems made by Israeli industry.”

Reportedly, the IAF will equip the F-35I variant with indigenous weapon systems which may include Rafael SPICE precision-guided bomb capable of electro-optical and GPS-targeting capabilities which will be able to fit in the fighter’s internal bay. However, equipping the aircraft with locally made weapons may not be easy. 

“In the “Adir” program, the IAF doesn’t have access to everything, and cannot fully intervene,” explained Lieutenant Colonel Y, commander of the FTC Squadron. “The experimental F-35I will act as the main building block for acquiring new flight capabilities and allow for the independent installation of munitions.”

The weapons that will be tested with ‘Adir’ will go through tests like flutter testing, load capacity and release fluency. Lieutenant Colonel Y explained that the durability of the weapon and aircraft while performing complex maneuvers is examined in load testing. 

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“In flutter testing, we check for aerodynamic phenomena that may endanger the jet. While testing release fluency, we scan for issues in the release process of munitions — a significant test for the “Adir” since its payload is released from an internal hold in the jet’s body.

After the testing process is completed, we are able to determine the guidelines for operating with the new capability,” he added.

To help the IAF with operating the experimental model, the IAF personnel will meet the Lockheed Martin engineers to receive the relevant knowledge to operate the aircraft and fly it prior to the testing process. 

The IAF personnel have also pointed out that Lockheed Martin will move forward with a similar model like ‘Adir’ for the US Air Force. However, it is yet to see when that will happen as ‘Adir’ will be fully explored first at the FTC in Tel-Nof.