MIAMI – Today in Aviation, the first flight of the Lockheed Martin CATBird, a highly modified Boeing 737-330, took place at the Mojave Spaceport in 2007.

The Lockheed Martin CATBird was built as an avionics flight test aircraft. The name is an adaptive acronym, from the Cooperative Avionics Test Bed; CATBIRD is coincidentally the ICAO-designated corporate callsign of Lockheed.

The aircraft was adapted to provide the avionics suite for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II with an economical means of developing and flight testing. CATBird has a distinctive look, with the nose of an F-35 and a pair of small canards positioned just aft of the front entrance doors.

The aircraft’s cabin has racks that house all the avionics of the F-35 and includes an F-35 cockpit.

A large area just behind the cabin in the CATBird is devoted to hardware racks. The interior also includes a high-fidelity F-35 cockpit. Photo: John Wilson via

A Modified Boeing 737

The aircraft was modified under contract by BAE Systems Inc. at its Mojave Spaceport facility. Work began in December 2003 and, in November 2006, the aircraft started post-modification taxi tests.

Following the initial flight test program carried out at Mojave on March 2, 2007, the aircraft was transported to the Fort Worth Lockheed facility for Phase 2 of the Modification Program to mount the flight test stations and the actual avionics and sensor systems to be tested.

Northrop Grumman later updated the CATBird software test station with Tech Refresh 2 hardware in 2014, which gives CATBird the opportunity to test the F-35 Block 3 software.

Featured image: Lockheed CATBird taxiing at the Mojave Spaceport during engine tests. Photo: wiki Commons. Article source: Delehant, Edward J. (15 May 2005). “Safety & design considerations for the cooperative avionics test bed (CATBird) aircraft”