UK F-35B pilots make final preparations ahead of carrier trials

A team of four F-35B test pilots are making final preparations for taking their aircraft aboard Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth next month.

Photo: F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force PAO Connie Hempel

Two specially-modified F-35Bs and four pilots – Mr Wilson from BAE, the RN’s Cdr Nathan Gray, Sqn Ldr Andy Edgell and a US Marine Corps aviator – will conduct the trials aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in two phases of trials this autumn, trials broken up by a high-profile visit to New York.

They’ll conduct around 500 landings and take-offs on the 900ft deck of the future flagship – the first time the Portsmouth-based warship has hosted fast jets.

HMS Queen Elizabeth is about to strike out across the Atlantic – another first – after final preparations in the South Coast exercise areas.

Once in the US, 200 engineers and experts from the F-35 Integrated Test Force – based at Pax River air station 50 miles outside Washington DC – will embark with a myriad of sensors and data recorders to see how the state-of-the-art aircraft perform in various weather conditions/sea states and carrying various payloads.

The ski ramp was introduced on the previous generation of carriers to give Harriers extra lift, allowing them to take off at a slower speed/heavier weight than normal – and has been retained on the new flagships for the same reason.

Weather and serviceability permitting, the first deck landing on the RN’s 65,000-tonne future flagship is earmarked for the last week in September.

The F-35B is now operational with the US Marine Corps, but US ships do not feature the ski jump, which rises about 20ft above the regular deck.