Aircraft programs to watch in 2016.

 
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New York (AirGuideBusiness - Business & Industry Features) It's likely to be a banner year for aircraft, as the service takes big steps forward for several of its newest planes: The Air Force is aiming for Aug. 1 as the date for initial operating capability for the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter. Developing the plane has long caused a headache for the Air Force, which saw the aircraft wind up more than $150 billion over budget and between three and seven years behind schedule, depending how you count. But problems continue as the Air Force has had to stop pilots who weigh under 135 pounds from flying the plane due to potentially fatal problems with the ejection seat. Contractor Martin Baker is working on a fix, but officials say it's unlikely to be deployed before IOC. The F-35 will also face another challenge as it goes up against the popular A-10 Thunderbolt II in a test to determine which plane is better at close-air support. The tests won't occur until 2018, but it's a move congressional leaders have been pushing for. "The F-35 is going to replace the A-10. We need to identify whether we're going to have a decrease in the unique capabilities in that mission set," Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former A-10 pilot and retired colonel, said Oct. 21. The Air Force wants to retire the Warthog, saying it could save $3.5 billion over five years. But lawmakers specifically put language in the 2016 defense funding bill that would prevent the service from mothballing the plane. Meanwhile, F-22 Raptors are increasingly taking part in missions in the Middle East against the Islamic State group. In 2015, however, operators reported problems with the fifth-generation aircraft being able to share data and information with older planes. The Air Force said it's looking at ways to improve communication between the F-22 and fighters like the F-16 and F-15. But some leaders are worried that the service doesn't have...

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