Lockheed Martin’s F-35B is due to embark on a third phase of ship-based developmental testing (DT) in October, the final step before it begins qualification trials on the UK’s Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier.
Two examples of the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant will embark on the USS America amphibious assault ship for three weeks at the end of October. It will evaluate operations at the minimum requirement of sea state five, but is expected to go up to sea state six.
Five F-35B test aircraft – designated BF1-5 – are currently being used for the programme, and it is likely that the BF-5 plus BF1 or BF2 will be used for the October tests.
“We’re in the last phases of planning,” Peter Wilson, STOVL lead test pilot for the F-35 programme told a media briefing at RAF Fairford on 7 July. “We are currently in the throes of testing the high levels of asymmetry, which we have to do before we go to the ship in October.”
Asymmetry has to be evaluated to ensure that the aircraft can effectively operate from the ship once some of the weapons payload has been dropped; there are “literally a couple of tests” left to be carried out ahead of the DT-3 phase, Wilson says.
“The US Marine Corps is completely happy with the capability we’re providing,” Wilson adds.
A separate round of qualification trials will need to be performed using the Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, on which the UK’s F-35Bs will deploy, but Wilson is hopeful this can be wrapped up quickly: “I think the shortest amount of time to do this will be a couple of months,” he adds.