Royal Navy starts F-35B rolling vertical landing trials

Photo: Royal Navy

Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth was at the center of an important milestone for the F-35 program as an F-35B performed the first ever shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL)

British test pilot Peter Wilson conducted the landing this weekend.

Previously the jets have conducted only vertical landings, hovering by the side of the ship before moving sideways over the deck and gently lowering down.

A rolling landing however requires the jet to make a more conventional landing approach, approaching the ship from behind at speed, before using thrust from its nozzle and lift created by air over the wings to touch down and gently come to a stop.

The UK is the only nation currently planning to use the manoeuver, which will allow jets to land on board the carrier with heavier loads, meaning they won’t need to jettison expensive fuel and weapons before landing.

Peter Wilson, a British test pilot from BAE Systems, said: “I’m excited and thrilled to have achieved this. I’ve worked on this for the past 17 years and it’s fantastic to know that it’s matched the modelling and simulation we have done over the years.

“I’ve flown more than 2,000 SRVLs in the simulator, and am honoured to have been able to do the first one on board HMS Queen Elizabeth.”

Another test pilot on board is Major Michael Lippert of the US Marine Corps. He said America was watching this part of the trials on board Britain’s carrier particularly closely. The USMC, which also flies the F-35B variant used by HMS Queen Elizabeth, will join the ship when she deploys operationally for the first time in 2021.

Maj Lippert said: “This is one of the main reasons we are here. It is of interest to the service at large and we are learning from each other. I will have the honor of conducting the first SRVL at sea for the US military so I’m excited. It’s what we all join up for – this is truly experimental test flying.”

Commander James Blackmore, the Commander Air on board HMS Queen Elizabeth – also known as ‘Wings’ – said: “This is the first step in proving this capability, and another milestone in aviation for the Royal Navy. It’s fantastic to have achieved this – it was textbook and just what we expected.”

Commodore Mike Utley is the Commander of the UK’s Carrier Strike Group. He added: “What today’s milestone eventually means is that we will give our strategic leaders even more choice.

“Pushing this ever expanding envelope means we can achieve the effects they require from us. Yet again we have demonstrated the seamless co-operation between the UK and US, but more essential than that is how that will translate into future operations.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth continues her flying trials – on a deployment called Westlant 18 – along with her escort ships HMS Monmouth and US destroyer USS Lassen.

She left her home port of Portsmouth in August, crossing the Atlantic with embarked Merlin Mk2 anti-submarine helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Culdrose and Merlin Mk4 helicopters from 845 Naval Air Squadron at RNAS Yeovilton.

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