On November 18 the UK’s new 65,000-tonne aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth completed the initial two first-of-class deck trial campaigns (DT-1 and DT-2) with the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II. Toward the end of the trials, an F-35B was landed for the first time facing the “wrong” way.
Flown by Integrated Test Force (ITF) chief test pilot Squadron Leader Andy Edgell, RAF, the unusual recovery involved the F-35 approaching the carrier from the bow, rather than using the traditional stern approach. As well as providing different visual cues for the pilot, the bow approach also encounters different wind conditions, as the carrier would typically be sailing into the wind while also generating airflow over the deck through its own forward motion.
”It was briefly bizarre to bear down on the ship and see the waves parting on the bow as you fly an approach aft-facing,” reported Edgell. “It was also a unique opportunity to fly toward the ship, stare at the bridge, and wonder what the captain is thinking.” Proving that the “back-to-front” landing poses no handling problems extends recovery options, particularly for emergency or partially fouled-deck situations.
Queen Elizabeth set off on the Westlant 18 deployment in September, embarking two F-35Bs and four test pilots from the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps, and BAE Systems, all assigned to the ITF at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland. During the deployment, which included a high-profile port call in New York alongside the Cunard liner Queen Mary 2, Queen Elizabeth conducted 202 F-35B launches, 187 standard vertical recoveries and 15 SRVLs (shipborne rolling vertical landings) between September 28 and November 18. The F-35Bs released 54 dummy bombs, while armorers tested loading and offloading various bombs and missiles using the carrier’s automated munitions magazine.
Captain Nick Cooke Priest took over as Queen Elizabeth’s commanding officer for the second phase of the trials following the departure of former CO, Rear Admiral Jerry Kyd, who accepted a new post as Commander UK Maritime Forces. Cooke Priest commented that the trials had marked “a significant milestone on the Royal Navy’s journey back to big-deck carrier operations. The schedule has been busy and challenging, and the results have eclipsed the aspiration.”
Following the end of the deck trials, the carrier visited Norfolk, Virginia, over the Thanksgiving weekend to disembark the ITF team and its test equipment. It is scheduled to arrive at its Portsmouth home port some time in mid-December. Another round of sea trials planned for next year will have a much greater operational emphasis and will employ aircraft operated by the RN and RAF from their UK base at Marham. The second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales, is due to go to sea before the end of next year.