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F-35A Lightning II Carries Out Final Flight Test Exercise With Nuclear Gravity Bombs

The U.S. Air Force has recently completed the final round of flight tests to integrate the latest variant of the B61 family of air-launched nuclear gravity bombs onto the F-35A Lightning II aircraft. Two joint strike fighters successfully released test versions of the new B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs during the demonstration.
 F-35A Lightning II takes off to complete the final test exercise of the nuclear design certification process 6 photos
An F-35A Lighting II carrying a B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb sits on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, NevadaAn F-35A Lighting II carrying a B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb sits on the flight line at Nellis Air Force Base, NevadaAirman 1st Class Javier Farcia-Bustos waits for an F-35A pilot to complete pre-flight checksAirmen from the 926th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron watch as an F-35A Lightning II pilot performs pre-flight checksAn F-35A Lighting II takes off with a B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada
This event marked the first deployment of the most representative B61-12 test item from an operational F-35A. U.S. Air Force test pilots flew the aircraft to the Tonopah Test Range at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and released two test versions of the B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs from operationally realistic flight envelopes.

"The B61 series weapons are tactical gravity nuclear weapons that can be used on Dual Capable Aircraft like the F-15E and F-16C/D,"  said Lt. Col Daniel Jackson, division chief, Headquarters ACC Strategic Deterrence and Nuclear Integration.

The successful completion of this final test marks an important step in the nuclear certification process, ensuring that the F-35A will meet future deadlines.

Nuclear certification is divided into two stages: nuclear design and nuclear operation. While a date for full nuclear certification for the joint fight striker has not been released, this recent test is considered the graduation flight test for the F-35A nuclear design certification. Plus, it finishes on-aircraft testing for the initial nuclear certification effort.

Currently, the Department of Defense and Department of Energy are analyzing the test data received from this demonstration. This thorough analysis will ensure that the F-35A and the B61-12 test bombs performed accordingly throughout the whole operation.

"Adding 'nuclear capable' to a 5th-Gen fighter that already brings several conventional-level capabilities to the table adds strategic-level implication to this jet," said Lt. Col Daniel Jackson.

According to the U.S. Air Force, in order to support real-world operations, not every aircraft will become nuclear-capable after final certification. Only those aircraft with a nuclear mission will be provided with the gear and manpower required to maintain nuclear-capable F-35s.

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