By Larry Shaughnessy
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has been a magnet for problems for years, but the new warplane's developers are slowly making progress toward deployment.
During testing at a facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey, pilots flying the Navy's carrier variant successfully caught five arresting wires in eight attempts, according to Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the F-35 program office.
That's an improvement over the first tests when pilots couldn't hook the wire. But it is not good enough.
The Pentagon's most expensive fighter jet has been afflicted by delays and a ballooning cost of nearly $400 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office.
The cost per plane has doubled since the program began in 2001, according to the GAO.
For a fighter to land on a carrier, a hook projecting from the bottom of the jet must grab a wire stretched across the deck. If the hook doesn't grab the wire, the pilot has to take off. So when the F-35 C failed initial tests, it spelled serious trouble for the Navy portion of the program.
DellaVedova said Lockheed Martin, the jet's builder, improved the shape of the hook as well as a device that pushes it down to better catch the wire.
Despite improvements, it will be awhile before F-35 C's land on a carrier at sea. As of now, the first sea trials are slated for spring of 2014.
Meanwhile, the Air Force on Tuesday successfully dropped an inert 2,000-pound bomb in an F-35 test flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California. It was the first such bomb deployment by the Air Force's version of the jet.