The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, a next-generation warplane capable of taking off on a short runway and landing vertically, could make its first trans-Atlantic flight in July, if the U.S. Department of Defense agrees to showcase the advanced fighter jet at two international air shows this summer.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is "very close" to approving the outing, which would mark the F-35's international air-show debut, Reuters reported, quoting multiple sources familiar with the issue who were not authorized to speak publicly about the decision.
According to the Reuters report, if the Defense Department approves, two or three F-35s would fly from the United States to the U.K. They'd then fly at the Royal International Air Tattoo, the world's largest military air show, held each July in Gloucestershire in the U.K., and the Farnborough International Airshow, a weeklong event held every other year in Hampshire, England. [In Photos: F-35 Fighter Jet Makes 1st Vertical Night Landing]
The summer events could generate new interest in the F-35 program, which has come under heavy criticism for its hugely inflated budget and for falling years behind schedule, according to news reports.
"Having the aircraft front and center on the U.K. stage will focus attention on the fact that it's a fairly mature program at this point, with over 100 jets built," an unnamed source told Reuters.
The airshows could also help the F-35's lead contractor, Lockheed Martin Corp., demonstrate the capabilities of the stealth fighter jet and build support among interested nations.
Britain's Ministry of Defence is slated to buy 138 F-35s in the coming years, and South Korea has plans to purchase 40 of the warplanes. Yet, Canada and Denmark — two countries that helped fund the F-35's development — have been rethinking whether to add these radar-evading planes to their air fleets, according to Reuters.
The F-35's short takeoff and vertical landing capabilities enable the warplane to operate from a range of diverse locations, including amphibious ships, aircraft carriers and airfields, military officials have said.
In August 2013, the stealth fighter successfully completed its first-ever vertical night landing at sea, aboard the USS Wasp, a U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship. Since the program launched, pilots have conducted approximately 700 short takeoffs and completed more than 380 vertical landings.
The F-35s are expected to form the core of the U.S. military's aviation fleet, eventually providing the bulk of tactical power for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy.