Remote controlled jump jet
Royal Navy handlers and engineers have tested moving the Fleet Air Arm’s future jet around with a remote-controlled ‘trolley’. The team at Pax River, near Washington DC, tried the prototype of the Electric Shipboard Handler (Aircraft) to move the 23-tonne Lighting II around without the need to flash up its engine.
On the tarmac at Pax River – home of the US Marine Corps’ test pilots – PO(AH) ‘Knocker’ White tries out a natty piece of kit to move the Royal Navy’s next-generation jump jet.
This is the first run out for the Electric Shipboard Handler (Aircraft), designed to move the F35B Lightning II safely around the sprawling hangar of HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales. A team of Royal Navy and RAF engineers have been working at Pax River – officially US Naval Air Station Patuxent River – about 60 miles outside Washington for several years as they learn how to maintain the £120m stealthy strike fighter, which will replace the Harrier.
Among the challenges to overcome, ‘cold moves’ – shifting an empty jet around for maintenance and other purposes aboard the carriers.
At 23 tonnes, the F35 is three times heavier than the legendary British jet it replaces.
So to help the aircraft handlers, the existing RAM handler used to move Fleet Air Arm Lynx and Wildcats and Army Air Corps Apaches has evolved into the ESHA.
The prototype was tested on two bitterly cold days at the Maryland air base with the Brits permanently attached to Pax joined by colleagues from Culdrose, Fleet HQ in Portsmouth, handler manufacturers Douglas, and the F35’s builders Lockheed Martin.
The aim is to build up as much ‘hands on’ experience so that using the ESHA for real on the deck of the Queen Elizabeth will be a doddle (technical term) when it flies aboard in 2018 with all the handler thoroughly tested in advance.
The UK owns three F35Bs at present, but it was one of the US Marine Corps’ jump jets – identical in every respect – used for the test, BF5, which was used on the recent landing/take-off trials on the USS Wasp off the Eastern Seaboard of the USA.