UK-owned Lockheed Martin F-35Bs have landed on the deck of the Royal Navy (RN) aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time, slightly more than a year before the combination will be declared operationally ready.
Short take-off and vertical landing aircraft assigned to the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) 17 Sqn operational evaluation unit are conducting embarked trials during the RN’s Westlant 19 carrier strike group deployment, being conducted off the US East Coast.
Pilots from both services, including the UK’s first active Lightning unit, the RAF’s 617 Sqn, are involved in the activity.
“Bringing our own Lightnings on board HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time gives us the opportunity to conduct critical operational testing,” says Air Vice-Marshal Harvey Smyth, air officer commanding the RAF’s 1 Group organisation. The UK Ministry of Defence says this work will include mission planning and debriefing, along with weapons arming, and represent “end-to-end testing of the aircraft and personnel”.
Previous testing conducted aboard the RN’s new aircraft carrier involved UK and US Marine Corps (USMC) pilots flying F-35Bs drawn from the latter service.
The UK is on course to declare initial operational capability with its Carrier Strike combination before the end of next year. A first operational deployment will be performed with the 65,000t HMS Queen Elizabeth during 2021, with the vessel to host F-35Bs from 617 Sqn and a USMC unit.
Lockheed has so far delivered 18 F-35Bs to the UK from firm orders for 48 examples. The nation’s formal requirement for the F-35 calls for an eventual 138 of the type.