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F-35Bs flying in formation
Sqn Ldr Nichols flying F-35B
F-35B vertical landing USS Wasp

F-35B update February

Published: 27 Feb 2014


Two F-35B aircraft fly in close formation while in short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) mode for the first time last week. Lt Cdr Peter Wilson and Dan Levin flew the test jets in STOVL mode, also known as Mode 4, with the F-35B liftfan engaged and engine rotated downward. The mission measured the effects the aircraft had on each other while in Mode 4 to ensure they can operate in formation safely in an operational environment.

BBC News online item dated 11 February 2014 based on Mark Urban's Newsnight report. Includes onward links to videos.

From US newspaper Northwest Florida News by Lauren Sage Leinlie

Pilot completes UK's first vertical landing in an F-35B

EGLIN AFB — The jet shot through the sky, as jets tend to do, until the sleek hunk of metal defied convention — it stopped. After traveling about 345 mph, the F-35B slowed to a halt in the sky and hovered a couple hundred feet in the air. With the aid of super-powered propulsion, it lowered to the ground; a swooping hawk transformed into an agile hummingbird.

A United Kingdom instructor pilot, Royal Air Force Squadron Leader Hugh Nichols, 35, had just completed his country’s first vertical landing in an F-35B at Eglin Air Force Base. “This is absolutely brilliant,” Royal Air Force Wing Commander Jon Millington said after watching the jet land. He oversees the United Kingdom’s joint Air Force and Navy F-35 program at Eglin.

The short take-off and vertical landing capability is a big step for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive weapons program ever. Pilots and maintainers from all branches of the U.S. military and some international partners have been training at Eglin for years, but did not start practicing the vertical landings until last November. Since then, they have taken 14 flights demonstrating the capability, officials reported.

The F-35B is the only version of the aircraft designed for short take-offs and vertical landings. A propulsion fan capable of 19,000 pounds of thrust makes it possible. The jets will be used for maneuvering in small areas without room for a traditional runway, including ship decks.

Millington said vertical landing is possible in other jets, like the Harrier, but without the short take-off capability they have to use sort of modified ski ramp when they want to launch the aircraft off a ship. 

On Tuesday, Nichols’ jet took off and lifted into the sky within about 500 feet of runway. Basically, it jumped up there.

“It’s just awesome, actually, to see that capability with our own pilot,” Millington said. “It’s a tremendous milestone and great achievement for the program and for the U.K.” Video of flight from the newspaper.


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