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Marine Sets Sail with Royal Navy for F-35 Tests

Oct. 5, 2018 | BY Air Force Staff Sgt. Megan Friedl
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For the first time in eight years, fighter jets flew from the decks of a British aircraft carrier.

An F-35 takes off  from a ship.
F-35 Takeoff
British Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray, with the F-35 Lightning II Integrated Test Force at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., becomes the first pilot to take off using the ski ramp on Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, Sept. 25, 2018, shortly after he and another pilot landed aboard successfully for the first time.
Photo By: Kyle Heller
VIRIN: 180925-O-ZZ999-006

For 11 weeks, U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Michael Lippert, an F-35B test pilot, and three British pilots tested the performance of the F-35B Lightning II on the deck of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the United Kingdom’s newest and largest aircraft carrier.

Lippert was selected to be a part of this mission because of his position as the Marine Corps’ F-35B ship suitability project officer and his previous shipboard operational experience as a Harrier pilot.

A closeup of an F-35B on the deck of a British aircraft carrier
Landing Completed
British Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray sits in his F-35B Lightning II after making the first deck landing aboard Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, Sept. 25, 2018. Gray is a test pilot with the F-35 Integrated Test Force at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md.
Photo By: Petty Officer Arron Hoare
VIRIN: 180925-O-ZZ999-004

Collectively, the pilots were expected to conduct 500 takeoffs and landings onto the ship’s 280-meter deck.

Why the Trials?

The trials evaluated the aircraft’s performance on the flight deck, and provided flight clearances for operational F-35 squadrons in preparation for future test and evaluation efforts. Eventually, the ship will deploy with a carrier air wing aboard.

Two F-35s flies over a military ship.
F-35 Flyover
British Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray and British Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Andy Edgell fly over Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, in the Atlantic Ocean, Sept. 25, 2018. The pilots, both assigned to the Integrated Test Force at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., made history by being the first to land on the ship.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 180925-O-ZB537-002

The trials also evaluated more than 200 aspects of the jet’s performance during various weather and sea conditions.

“The nature of this relationship means there is plenty of room for the exchange of lessons learned and operational practices,” Lippert said. “In short, we learn from each other, and that makes us all better. Lessons and experiences from this test effort will help to ensure interoperability between the services and will be of mutual benefit to the U.K. and U.S. Marine Corps.”

An F-35 flies through the air.
Airborne F-35B
An F-35B Lightning II fighter jet flies over Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, during testing in the Atlantic Ocean, Sept. 25, 2018. During the test, two pilots landed aboard successfully for the first time, laying the foundation for the next 50 years of fixed-wing aviation in support of Britain's carrier strike capability.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 180925-O-ZB537-001

How the F-35B Is Different

The F-35B has the ability to land vertically like a helicopter and take off in a much shorter space, which increases its stealth.

It is flown by the U.S. Marine Corps and Britain’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.

“The improvements in short takeoff/vertical landing handling qualities in the F-35B flight control system bring a substantially decreased workload to the pilot compared to legacy STOVL platforms like the Harrier,” Lippert said.

British carrier launches F-35B off its front.
F-35 Takeoff
British Royal Navy Cmdr. Nathan Gray, with the Integrated Test Force at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., makes the first takeoff from the ski jump on Britain’s newest aircraft carrier, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, in an F-35B Lightning II, Sept. 25, 2018. The flight was part of testing of both the aircraft and the ski jump, which allows the the F-35B to take advantage of its short takeoff ability.
Photo By: Courtesy photo
VIRIN: 180925-O-ZZ999-005

Along with these monumental flights, British and U.S. Marines conducted exercises together to prove the ability to operate with other nations’ maritime and aviation assets.

Before testing began, Lippert said he was “looking forward to the opportunity and experience of flying the aircraft from a brand new ship.” He said he expected “many firsts … and it’s a wonderful privilege to be a part of it all.”