Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has welcomed first British F-35B jets on board during its operational trials off the East Coast of the US.
The arrival of British F-35Bs follows successful developmental trials last year with US Lightning jets, where forces conducted 500 take offs and landings over their 11-week period at sea.
These trials are aimed at ‘end-to-end’ testing of the aircraft and personnel to ensure the aircraft are compatible with the carrier. The tests involve mission planning, arming the aircraft using the ship’s highly automated weapon handling system, flying missions and debriefing on completion.
The landings on HMS Queen Elizabeth are part of the ‘Westlant 19’ carrier strike group deployment. During this time, the aircraft carrier will be escorted by Type 45 destroyer HMS Dragon, frigate HMS Northumberland, tanker RFA Tideforce and Merlins from 814, 820 and 845 Naval Air Squadrons, Wildcats from 815 squadron and Royal Marines from Lima Company, 42 Commando.
“This is another step towards the UK’s carrier strike capability becoming fully operational,” Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.
“The bringing together of the UK Lightnings on the first in class HMS Queen Elizabeth paves the way for the world’s most up to date, fully integrated carrier force.”
“This is the first time I have landed onboard an aircraft carrier – for it to be HMS Queen Elizabeth, and in an aircraft as amazing as a UK Lightning, is quite something,” Royal Air Force Wing Commander Adam Curd, who was the first to land onboard, said.
The trials will be led by the joint Royal Navy – Royal Air Force 17 Test and Evaluation Squadron from the Air Warfare Centre. The Squadron will be operating alongside personnel and aircraft from the UK Lightning Force, based out of RAF Marham.
The UK expects to declare initial operating capability for carrier strike by the end of 2020. The first operational deployment for HMS Queen Elizabeth 617 Squadron and a squadron of US Marine Corps Lightning jets is due to take place in 2021.