The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has gone to sea for the first time. An F-35B short-takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) version landed on the small U.S. aircraft carrier Wasp on October 3 at the start of a two-week trial during which 67 takeoffs and landings are scheduled. Some observers have raised concerns about the potential for damage to carrier decks from the aircraft’s F135 engine. It develops 39,400 pounds of thrust in the hover and 38,100 pounds of thrust in short takeoff. But officials said that STOVL test flights at Patuxent River had showed “no cause for concern.” U.S. Marine Corps test pilot Lt. Col. Fred Schenk said the first carrier landing “was exactly like we predicted.”
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin UK market development manager Paul Livingston told AIN that the company is confident that the F-35C version can operate from the UK’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier without modifications. Last July, a government watchdog listed a series of risks arising from the UK decision to switch from the F-35B to the F-35C version.
Separately, a Lockheed spokeswoman told AIN that BAE Systems had been selected to provide the alternative helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) for the F-35. The move became necessary after Visions Systems International (VSI) encountered technical challenges with the original HMDS, including visual acuity and night-vision sensitivity, Lockheed Martin acknowledged. VSI’s HMDS is supposed to import medium-wave infrared imagery from the aircraft’s distributed aperture system (DAS) to the visor display, so the pilot has night vision. BAE’s alternative helmet uses commercial off-the-shelf night-vision goggles (NVGs). Lockheed Martin said the alternative HMDS represents a risk-mitigation strategy; development of the original VSI HMDS will continue under a new contract recently issued. To further mitigate risk, the alternative HMDS is not required to have binocular symbology or to display image data from the F-35’s DAS. These will be added if the BAE helmet becomes the baseline system, Lockheed Martin said.