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F-35B Out of the Dog House A Year Early: Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the "two-year probation" imposed last year on the Marine Corps' F-35B short-takeoff and vertical-landing variant, citing "real progress" made by the government-industry team developing the aircraft since then "towards fixing" the technical issues that surfaced in testing. Speaking at a town hall-style meeting on Jan 20 at NAS Patuxent River, Md., where F-35B testing is under way, Panetta said developers have made "sufficient progress" with the B model so that "as of today, I am lifting the STOVL probation." He added, "We now believe that because of your work the STOVL variant is demonstrating the kind of performance and maturity that is in line with the other two variants of the [F-35]." When then Defense Secretary Robert Gates placed the F-35B on the probation last January, he warned that this configuration would face cancellation if the Defense Department and industry could not resolve the design issues within those two years. (Panetta transcript) (F-35 program office statement) (Marine Corps Commandant statement) (Lockheed Martin release) (See also AFPS report by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.)