USS America begins F-35B Lightning II operational testing

An F-35B Lightning II aircraft lands for the first time on the flight deck of amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6). Photo: US Navy

F-35B Lightning II aircraft, the U.S. Navy’s next generation of stealth fighter jets, landed on the amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA 6) on October 28 to begin operational testing.

America will embark seven F-35Bs; two are scheduled to begin the third shipboard phase of developmental test (DT-III) and five are scheduled to conduct operational testing.

USS America is the first ship of its class and is capable of accommodating the fifth-generation fighter since it is an aviation-centric platform.

Compared to previous amphibious assault ships, America’s design features several enhanced aviation capabilities which include an enlarged hangar deck, realignment and expansion of the aviation maintenance facilities, a significant increase in available stowage of parts and equipment and an increased aviation fuel capacity.

America can accommodate F-35Bs, MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, and a complement of Navy and Marine Corps helicopters.

The third test phase will evaluate F-35B Short Take-off Vertical Landing (STOVL) operations in a high-sea state, shipboard landings, and night operations.

“It’s exciting to start the execution phase of our detachment with VMX-1 (Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1) on USS America,” said Lt. Col. Tom “Sally” Fields, F-35 Patuxent River ITF Government Flight Test director assigned to VX-23.

Fields further said the crew would be completing developmental and operational tests that will establish the boundaries of safe operation for the F-35B and prepare maintenance crews and pilots for the first deployment of the F-35B aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1) which is scheduled to start in just over a year.

The operational testing will also include simulating extensive maintenance aboard a ship, said Col. George Rowell, commanding officer of VMX-1, based at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.

Rowell stated one of the VMX jets on board will be placed in the hangar bay, taken apart, and put together again, just to make sure everything goes well.

The maintenance work will include the replacement of a lift fan, the specialized equipment made by Rolls Royce and Pratt and Whitney that gives the F-35B variant its short take-off, “jump jet” capability, Rowell said.

The Marine Corps variant of the F-35 Lightning II reached the fleet first, with the service declaring initial operational capability July 2015.

“The F-35 Lightning II is the most versatile, agile, and technologically-advanced aircraft in the skies today, enabling our Corps to be the nation’s force in readiness — regardless of the threat, and regardless of the location of the battle,” said Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant for aviation, Marine Corps. “As we modernize our fixed-wing aviation assets for the future, the continued development and fielding of the short take-off and vertical landing, the F-35B remains the centerpiece of this effort.”

“The America class of amphibious assault ship design enables it to carry a larger and more diverse complement of aircraft, including the tiltrotor MV-22 Osprey, the new F-35 Lightning II, and a mix of cargo and assault helicopters,” added Davis.

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