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(photo credit: AP)
Israel inched a step closer to receiving the new fifth-generation stealth Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) after the Lockheed Martin-developed aircraft took its maiden flight Friday in Fort Worth, Texas.
Officials had initially said that the test flight would last an hour but the aircraft encountered technical difficulties and the test pilot flew for only 35 minutes.
Jon Beesley, chief test pilot for the Joint Strike Fighter, also known as the F-35, said the plane handled "marvelously," flew better than the simulator and performed flawlessly. He flew to a height of 15,000 feet.
Beesley said one of two air data sensors was not operating properly. Although it did not pose a danger, the procedure called for ending the flight at that time, preventing completion of the remaining few tests, including raising the landing gear.
Eight countries - including Britian, Turkey and Australia - are members of the JSF. Israel enjoys the status of a Security Cooperation Participant after paying $20 million in 2003 to obtain access to information accumulated during the development of the jet, which will be priced at somewhere between $40 million-50 million.
According to Lockheed Martin officials, Israel could begin receiving the JSF in 2014.
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, IAF commander Maj.-Gen. Elazar Shkedy announced unequivocally: "The Joint Strike Fighter will come to Israel, I hope in the middle of the next decade."
Earlier this week, Britain signed an agreement committing to the next development and production phase of the new Joint Strike Fighter, resolving a dispute between the Pentagon and its biggest overseas partner over sharing technology for the advanced fighter jet.
Along with Britain, the Netherlands and Canada have signed agreements, and Australian officials were in Washington on Tuesday to sign their own deal. Turkey, Italy, Norway and Denmark have until the end of the year to sign.
"Right now we are characterizing the flight as hugely successful," said Tom Jurkowsky, a spokesman for Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corp.
After 10 years of development, Lockheed Martin is moving to the early stages of production for what could be thousands of fighter jets for the American military and eight countries.
The US plans to use the F-35 to replace aging planes used by the Marines, Air Force and Navy, including jets like the F-16, the F-18, and the Harrier jet.