Royal Navy sailors have received life-size replicas of the F-35 Lightning II jets to help them train for operations on the new aircraft carriers.
The replicas are being moved around the tarmac at RNAS Culdrose, in Cornwall, as flight deck teams learn the art of working with the world’s most advanced warplanes.
The Royal Naval School of Flight Deck Operations has acquired four full-size models of the jump jets.
Used alongside existing jets and helicopters, aircraft handlers can practise moving and marshalling all sizes of aircraft operating the mock-up aircraft carrier flight deck, ensuring the training handlers receive before they join the new flat-top is as realistic as possible.
While they have no engines, sensors or weapons, the four replica F-35s – dubbed the ‘faux fighters’ by the team at Culdrose – will allow handlers to get used to the size and weight of the real thing – without the danger of damaging a multi-million pound stealth fighter – ahead of moving them around for real from autumn 2018.
Built from fibre-glass by Cornish firm Gate Guards UK, the ‘ground training aids’ – to give the models their official title – are fitted with water tanks which simulate fuel and weapons loads between 16 and 24 tonnes.
Two of the replica F-35s have opening cockpits – used to practise rescuing injured pilots in a crash.
These four new ‘faux-fighter jets’ will take flight deck training to another level, as CPO Paul Ranson, Training Manager for all Embarked Training, explains:
“We need to provide as realistic training as possible before the trainees go to sea. Aircraft handlers are vital to the new carrier. Without them the Royal Navy cannot conduct safe aviation at sea.”
Paul, who is soon to join HMS Queen Elizabeth himself as the Captain of the Flight Deck explained, “To be ‘carrier-ready’, we need to practise moving all different shapes and sizes of aircraft. Ninety-nine per cent of handlers have never been near an F35-B yet or moved anything nearly that large on a flight deck.