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November 16, 2009—The first production-equivalent F-35A conventional takeoff and landing Joint Strike Fighter on Nov. 14 took its first flight—an 89-minute stroll during which Lockheed Martin test pilot Doc Nelson flew it from the company's Fort Worth plant to 20,000 feet, reached 0.6 Mach, and conducted some 360-degree rolls.

A Lockheed release notes the AF-1 was built on the same production line—the first modern fighter moving assembly line—as the 31 low rate initial production F-35s now undergoing assembly.

Maj. Gen. C.D. Moore, JSF deputy program executive officer, called the AF-1's flight "a significant achievement … [that] sets the stage for what's promising to be a successful flight test program."

AF-1 now will join two F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing variants currently in flight test. (The company announced it had delivered the first F-35B STOVL on Nov. 15 to NAS Paxtuxent River, where it will undergo hover and vertical landing testing; BF-1 first flew in June 2008.)

Lockheed's VP for F-35 test and verification, Doug Pearson, said, "The AF-1 is one of the most important aircraft in our test fleet because knowledge gained from its use expanding the flight envelope will benefit the other two variants and every F-35 ever built."

Pearson noted, too, that AF-1 is the first F-35 to "roll off our moving assembly line," which he said had achieved a production speed of 50 inches per hour. The company expects its moving assembly line—"the first ever for a modern fighter," said Pearson—to improve production quality and speed.