A rumble shakes the air as two British F-35 fighter jets take a low approach and circle a landing strip.
Nearby, a U.S. Air Force F-35 roars down another runway, only to decelerate rapidly as part of a test to see if cables correctly catch a hook on the back of the plane. Moments later, an Air Force F-35 taxis out and takes off, afterburner blazing, followed by a Danish F-16 that serves as a chase jet.
The mix of nationalities on display is a testament to the complexity of the most expensive weapons program ever.
But the buzz of increased test flight activity here in the Mojave Desert also signals that production of the long-delayed F-35 – which was initially supposed to enter full-scale production in 2008 – is finally ramping up.
That increased rate of building, toward full production in 2019, is now rippling through more than 100 Southern California subcontractors that supply parts and software for the F-35’s builder, Lockheed Martin Corp.