Canadian Warplanes 6: Lockheed Martin CF-35 Lightning II

(Artwork by Peter J. Robichaud)

'Alouettes Lightning & Hornet'.  Illustration depicting the McDonnell Douglas CF-188 Hornet and its replacement the Lockheed Martin CF-35 Lightning II, both of No. 425 Alouette Squadron, RCAF.  This painting was commissioned by CF-118 pilot Captain A. Cirlan who presented it to the Squadron as a departure gift upon his posting.

The Lockheed Martin CF-35 Lightning II is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft that is intended to perform both air superiority and strike missions. It is also able to provide electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. Lockheed Martin is the prime F-35 contractor, with principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. The aircraft has three main variants: the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A, the short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) F-35B, and the carrier-based (CV/CATOBAR) F-35C.

The Canadian CF-35 was a proposed variant that would differ from the F-35A through the addition of a drogue parachute and the potential inclusion of an F-35B/C-style refueling probe. In 2012, it was revealed that the CF-35 would employ the same boom refueling system as the F-35A. One alternative proposal would have been the adoption of the F-35C for its probe refueling and lower landing speed; however, the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report cited the F-35C's limited performance and payload as being too high a price to pay. Following the 2015 Federal Election the Liberal Party, whose campaign had included a pledge to cancel the F-35 procurement, formed a new government and commenced an open competition to replace the existing CF-18 Hornet. The CF-35 variant was deemed too expensive to develop, and was never considered. The Canadian government decided to not pursue any other modifications in the Future Fighter Capability Project, and instead focused on the potential procurement of the existing F-35A variant. It has been speculated, however, that the RCAF would still include the drag chute pod F-35As for shortened landing distances.

On 28 Mar 2022, the Canadian Government began negotiations with Lockheed Martin for 88 F-35As to replace the aging fleet of CF-18 fighters starting in 2025. The aircraft are reported to cost up to CA$19bn total with a life-cycle cost estimated at CA$77bn over the course of the F-35 program. On 9 Jan 2023, Canada formally confirmed the purchase of 88 aircraft with an initial delivery of 16 aircraft to the RCAF in 2026 and the final batch in 2032. The additional characteristics confirmed for the CF-35 included the drag chute pod for landings at short/icy arctic runways, as well as the 'sidekick' system, which allows the CF-35 to carry up to 6 x AIM-120D missiles internally (instead of the typical internal capacity of 4 x AIM-120 missiles on other variants). (Wikipedia)

(USAF Photo by Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

An F-35 Lightning II test aircraft with the Canadian flag, along with those of other industrial participants, painted on it, 23 Apr 2009.

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