Dec. 26 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin announced the delivery of its 91st F-35 fighter plane this year, a 40 percent production increase over 2017, as the company said the fifth generation aircraft is moving toward full rate production.
The deliveries include 54 f-35s for the United States, 21 for international partner nations and 16 for Foreign Military Sales customers. Lockheed said the 91 aircraft produced in 2018 is a 40 percent increase over 2017 and doubles the number of aircraft delivered in 2016.
In 2019, the company expects to build and deliver over 130 more, a 40 percent production increase, it said in a statement.
The 91st F-35 of the year, to be delivered to Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., completes Lockheed Martin's delivery goal for the year. The company has now built 355 of the planes, which currently cost about $89.2 million each, with the aircraft being flown by 10 nations from 16 bases worldwide.
"This milestone demonstrates the F-35 enterprise is prepared for full rate production and ready to deliver on increasing demand from our customers worldwide," Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager of the F-35 program, said last week. "Today, the F-35 is the most capable fighter jet in the world, and we're delivering more aircraft per year than any other fighter on the market at equal to or less cost."
Initial tests and evaluations on Navy F-35s began on Dec. 5 at Edwards AFB in California.
"The sorties consisted of seven F-35s performing both offensive counter air, suppression of enemy air defenses and air attack operations. This marks an important milestone for the F-35 program," said Lt. Col. Nicholas Ihde, 31st TES commander. "These unique flights place the aircraft in realistic combat conditions with our joint and coalition partners to determine the operational effectiveness and suitability for the warfighter."
During initial operational test and evaluation, also known as IOT&E, the Joint Strike Fighter Operational Test Team tested the aircraft to "identify areas for improvement in the most stressing operationally representative environments," the F-35 joint program office said in a statement.
All F-35s were grounded in October over concerns of suspect engine fuel tubes, but over 80 percent of the aircraft were quickly cleared to return to flight operations.