Two US Navy F-35C test aircraft have begun a second round of developmental testing at sea aboard the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower, aimed at smoothing the aircraft’s entry into service in 2018.
The arrival of aircraft CF-03 and CF-05 of the “Salty Dogs” Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 2 October on the aircraft carrier comes as the F-35 joint programme office announces the first external weapons release from an F-35 – with four inert, laser-guided 227kg (500lb) bombs successfully dropped from test aircraft CF-02, a carrier variant, at the navy’s Atlantic Test Range in Maryland 23 September.
“All four weapon separations were successful and confirmed the accuracy of the predicted release trajectory,” the navy says.
Regarding the sea trials: it’s the second time the F-35C has conducted developmental testing aboard an aircraft carrier, and a third and final evaluation is expected next year in preparation for the aircraft’s entry into service in 2018.
“These sea trials will further expand the F-35C's flight envelope,” F-35 program executive officer Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan says in statement. “The testing we're doing today will prepare us for next year's final at-sea developmental test and keep us on track to support the Navy's 2018 initial operational capability date.”
The Eisenhower, a Nimitz-class carrier, underwent modification prior to accepting the two F-35Cs, including rebuilt jet blast deflectors for aircraft launch catapults one and two.
According to the navy, the deflectors were redesigned to better withstand the F-35’s powerful engine exhaust. The devices protect the crews and equipment on the flight deck during aircraft takeoffs.
Improvements were also made to the carrier’s arresting or “trapping” unit, with the installation of an “advance recovery control” system.
“When an aircraft lands, no matter what cable it catches, the ARC system will only allow that aircraft to travel a total of 183ft [55.8m] down the landing area,” says one navy official in a 5 October statement.
The navy has not introduced a new combat aircraft since the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, and by 2025 the service’s carrier-based air wings will be comprised of Super Hornets, Boeing EA-18G Growlers and Lockheed F-35Cs – with airborne early warning and control from the Northrop Grumman E-2D and logistics support from the Bell-Boeing V-22.
During “DT-II,” the F-35Cs will perform many take-offs and arrested landings, but the navy is also assessing the aircraft’s maintainability at sea by conducting live and simulating maintenance operations as well as fit checks of the aircraft and maintenance gear.