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New aircraft tested at Mojave Airport
BY STEVEN MAYER, Californian staff writer
e-mail: email@example.com | Tuesday, Jan 23 2007 9:30 PM
Last Updated: Tuesday, Jan 23 2007 9:34 PM
MOJAVE AIRPORT – It’s a strange hybrid – a cross between a Boeing 737 and a new-generation military fighter jet – and it took to the skies for the first time Tuesday at this desert spaceport in eastern Kern County.
The CATB aircraft takes off on its maiden flight from Mojave toward the Tehachapi Mountains for a two-hour flight. The plane will be used as an avionics test bed for the F-35 fighter.
Like most high-tech military projects, this flying laboratory has a long, incomprehensible name: the Joint Strike Fighter Cooperative Avionics Test Bed. Did everyone get that?
Luckily it also has a nickname: “CAT-Bird.” The aircraft, converted by BAE Systems at its facility at Mojave Airport, is part of a $6 billion testing and development program for Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, the next generation military stealth fighter expected to become operational in about 2015.
This futuristic weapon will eventually harness twice the gigabytes found in an F-16 or F/A-18, the military fighters in current service. The CAT-Bird will be used to develop and evaluate the F-35’s extensive sensor technology, long before that technology reaches the new fighter prototypes.
“All the mission systems for the F-35 will actually be installed on this aircraft,” said Doug Pearson, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s testing effort. “It has the same nose as the F-35 and the little wings added to the CAT-Bird are similar to the wings on the F-35.”
Pearson, a retired Air Force general, was commander of the Flight Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base until his departure in 2004. Mojave Airport and other aviation centers in the Antelope Valley are the genesis, he said, of technologies the public will see five or 10 years into the future.
“You can see the future from here,” he said as he stood in BAE’s cavernous hangar in Mojave, where the company’s 200 Mojave-based employees and dozens of guests gathered Tuesday morning.
Over the next two decades, the Pentagon plans to spend hundreds of billions of tax dollars to buy 2,443 of the jet fighters at a cost of up to $60 million each. In an unprecedented partnership, eight U.S. allies are paying part of the $276 billion cost to develop the F-35, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter.
“We probably played a small part in preparing our nation for the conflicts of tomorrow,” Tom Arseneault, president of BAE’s sensor systems, told the gathered crowd.
The CAT-Bird will undergo a few more weeks of testing in its current configuration, Arseneault said.
Then it will be rolled back into the hangar where a number of other systems and subsystems will be installed for further testing.
The interior will include 20 work stations for technicians to assess the performance of the avionics. By testing the capabilities individually and as an integrated system before installation in the F-35, developers say they expect to save time and money.
“It’s not just about an airplane flying,” Pearson said. “It’s about moving the American way of life, the Western way of life, forward.”
Helen Miller, a resident of Rosamond and a BAE employee, has worked in the aviation industry for decades.
“I helped build the B-1 and the B-2 (bombers),” she said Tuesday. “There’s a lot of pride in what we do.”