28 August 2009 marks a personal milestone. It was my last day working on the Pratt & Whitney Joint Strike Fighter engine (aka the F135). It is hard to believe that I worked almost ten years on that program (and slightly more than 10 years as a UTC employee). Unfortunately, I had to leave the company for personal reasons.
I spent most of the last five years supporting ground testing of engines and flight testing of the F-35 Lightning II (the official name for the Joint Strike Fighter). I was able to see and do many cool things.
I attended the last bolt ceremony for the first engine to test.
I went to Indy to help install some equipment that Rolls Royce used to test their LiftFan.
I helped install and test the first STOVL ground test engine at our facility in Florida. I was hanging upside down at one point behind the LiftFan (the upward pointing cone in the picture below) trying to hook up cables I could barely touch but could not see. Obviously, before we started running the engine and there was a safety platform under me. Good times.
I was able to get some trips to Tennessee to learn how to test engines at simulated altitude conditions at Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC).
I spent some time helping out on Accelerated Mission Testing of a STOVL engine. Third shift was so much fun.
I then moved to Texas in 2005 to support engine/airframe integration testing in the labs (required for flight clearance). While there, I got to see and do more cool things.
I watched the first takeoff and landing of the first Joint Strike Fighter (AA-1) before they started calling it the F-35 Lightning II. The landing gear was extended, so it had to climb at a steep angle to keep within speed limits. The chase planes were on full afterburner trying to catch up. A very rewarding sight to an engine guy. First flight was followed up by a party at the Flying Saucer (where I scored free beer from an anonymous P&W executive).
I had the opportunity to test many engines in a Navy hush house. It was great to sit in a trailer, outside of a thick walled building and feel the ground shake when the engine was at maximum augmentation (aka full afterburner for you GE fans).
I learned how to cover flight tests from the control room and was able to support a number of AA-1 flights.
I was able to attend the F-35C carrier variant rollout.
Finally, I got to cover the ground tests and first flight of BF-2, the second F-35B to fly. This took a lot of late nights, 3rd shift work, and weekends, but it was worth it. I even got a very cool challenge coin from the test pilot (he gave one to each of the control room folks). I covered all but the last two flights, including the first aerial refueling of an F-35B (click for a link to LM press release along with a great photo). These were some of the most difficult but also most rewarding work experiences of my life.
But while it was great to see and do cool things, the part of my job in Texas I will miss the most is working with some of the best people on the planet-the P&W/HS Flight Test Team. May our paths cross again one day.
If you are interested in this program, you can find out more at www.jsf.mil (lots of pictures there) or at www.twitter.com/f135engine.