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Lt Cdr Ian Tidball

F-35 pilot among guests at HMS Queen Elizabeth ceremony

Published: 24 Jun 2014

A Royal Navy instructor pilot working on the F-35B Lightning II jets which will fly off the new aircraft carriers will be among the guests at the naming ceremony of HMS Queen Elizabeth at Rosyth.

Lt Cdr Ian ‘Tidders’ Tidball is one of three UK pilots who have flown the F-35B in the USA and will be passing on his experience to a future generation of Navy pilots.

“The Lightning is a really great airplane to fly.

“I’ve flown both the Sea Harrier and the F18 Super Hornet and without a doubt this is the most enjoyable aircraft I’ve flown in my career,” he said.

Lt Cdr Tidball, who grew up in Weston, Somerset, took part in the very last Sea Harrier fly past when 801 NAS was paid off in 2006.

After initial training as a Commando Sea King pilot, he switched to Sea Harriers, clocking up more than 1,300 hours in the jump jet with all three Fleet Air Arm squadrons (800, 801 and 899) from all three ‘Harrier carriers’ (Invincible, Illustrious and Ark Royal).

“The future is bright without a doubt. This aeroplane will be fantastic. I cannot wait until I see it on the deck of the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers going operational in about 2020.

“I am hoping to see the F35-B into service. The first of class flight trials will take place in 2018 and I hope to be involved in that team in one way or another.”

The aviator is full of praise for the new jet, which he has been flying regularly at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida with the United States Marine Corps Fighter Attack training squadron – VMFAT-501.

 “The great thing about this is the sense of fusion it brings. Obviously it has fifth-generation stealth capability but the sense of fusion means that information displayed to the pilot is all fused together.

“So rather than a legacy aircraft where one’s looking at different screens of say radar information and the electronic warfare information on separate displays, this is fused so that the pilot has one overall picture which obviously decreases his workload, enabling him to deploy the aircraft in a more effective manner.

“I had the idea of wanting to end up in the programme when I left the Sea Harrier and was fortunate enough to get an exchange with the US Navy out in China Lake, California, where I flew the Super Hornet, conducting operational tests so coming on the F35 and flying in operational tests was an obvious step for me – one I clearly aspired to and have been lucky enough to do.”

Lt Cdr Tidball, who turns 45 this month, July is attending the HMS Queen Elizabeth naming ceremony with wife  and  3 sons.

When they return to the USA it will be to their new home in California where Lt Cdr Tidball will join 17 Test and Evaluation Squadron at Edwards Air Force Base.

The squadron will stand up as 617 RAF at RAF Marham in 2018 with the F-35s due to operate from the carrier by 2020.


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