The Jump jet of tomorrow
This is the first take-off at sea by a British pilot in an F35 Lightning II – the jump jet of tomorrow for HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales.
During a week of trials aboard the American amphibious assault ship, RAF Sqn Ldr Jim Schofield successfully launched his F35B and brought it safely back down on to the deck of the Wasp – by day and night.
He was not only the first Briton to do so, but the first non-American (Italy, Israel, the Netherlands, Japan, Norway, Denmark, and Canada are all investing in or showing an interest in the stealth strike fighter).
As well as simple sorties to gain take-off and landing experience, the F35 also lifted off the deck with various payloads.
The data gathered by the RAF pilot and his American colleagues during more than 40 successful take-offs from and landings on the Wasp will prove indispensable when it comes to operating the new jet at sea: the US Marine Corps will be doing that in just two years’ time, the Fleet Air Arm and RAF likewise in 2018 from the deck of the QE.
And while it was an RAF man at the controls for these trials – known as Development Trials II – backing him up in the Wasp’s hangar was a team of air engineers and technicians led by Lt Cdr Robin Trewinnard-Boyle.
Both the light and dark blue contingents are delighted both with the performance of the F35 – which will be the first fifth generation jet fighter to fly from a British aircraft carrier – but also the wider Lightning II programme.
“The aircraft has performed fantastically,”
said Lt Cdr Trewinnard-Boyle.
“For the pilot it’s much easier to fly and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s much easier to maintain.
“The F35 has very much been designed with the maintainer in mind. All the components we need to change and the work we have to do is easier – and hence quicker.”
Sqn Ldr Schofield was apprehensive about his first night flights from the Wasp, but thanks to the advances made in the two generations since the Harrier was designed, found them to be 'a breeze'.
As for the overall trials, he summed them up in a single word: staggering.
“The UK is going to be very pleased with the F35,”
the RAF pilot said.
“It’s a great jet to fly – definitely fifth generation in every sense.
“For all of those people at school now looking forward to joining the RAF or the Royal Navy, they are going to have a lot of fun flying this jet.”
They will do so with The Dambusters – 617 Squadron RAF – or the Immortals – 809 Naval Air Squadron – which are both being formed as Lighting II units at RAF Marham.
Each squadron will be manned by a mix of RAF and Royal Navy air and ground crew.