The embarkation of a pair of F-35B Lightnings on board HMS Queen Elizabeth off the east coast of the US marked a major step forward in the regeneration of the UK Carrier Strike capability. For the latest issue of AFM, Richard Scott joined the carrier at the end of the First Of Class Flight Trials to find out how aircraft and ship performed together.
While the initial embarkation of the two fully instrumented ‘orange wired’ F-35Bs was cause for much fanfare on board Queen Elizabeth, it was only the first act in an intensive eight-week programme of fixed-wing First Of Class Flight Trials – or FOCFT (FW) – which ran through to mid-November in two main phases that were the primary focus for the navy’s four-month WESTLANT 18 deployment.
Four test pilots – Sqn Ldr Edgell, Cdr Gray, US Marine Corps test pilot Maj Michael ‘Latch’ Lippert and BAE Systems F-35 STOVL lead test pilot Pete ‘Wizzer’ Wilson – collectively flew 85 sorties (amounting to 75 flight hours) in the two aircraft during back-to-back periods of Developmental Testing (DT): DT-1 nominally ran from September 25 to October 17, with DT-2 following from October 28 until November 19; punctuated by Queen Elizabeth’s visit to New York between October 19 and 26.
“This is what First Of Class Flight Trials is all about,” said Cdr Gray. “It’s bringing the two systems together – the aircraft and the ship – to ensure they are interoperable, and to define the operating limits. This provides the basis for the whole ‘fighting system’.
“Queen Elizabeth has been designed, keel up, as a strike carrier based around an F-35B fixed-wing air group. We call it a fifth-generation carrier for a fifth-generation aircraft. It’s got all the systems and engineering for the F-35 built into the ship. No other carrier in the world has been built just for this air vehicle.”