F-35B lands “backwards” on HMS Queen Elizabeth in another Westlant 18 milestone

Photo: Royal Navy

After acing the revolutionary shipborne rolling vertical landing earlier this year, Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and the F-35 Lightning team have now achieved another milestone during the carrier’s flight trials off the US East Coast.

As announced by the Royal Navy, an F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) jet landed backwards on HMS Queen Elizabeth for the first time ever.

RAF test pilot Squadron Leader Andy Edgell flew his specially-adapted stealth fighter facing the stern, not bow, before bringing the jet to a hover, slipping it over the flight deck and gently setting it down.

The ‘back-to-front’ maneuver, described as “like driving the wrong way down a one-way street” is intended to give pilots and the flight deck team more options to safely land the state-of-the-art stealth fighter in an emergency.

The wrong-way landing was a slightly surreal experience, said Squadron Leader Edgell. “It was briefly bizarre to bear down on the ship and see the waves parting on the bow as you fly an approach aft facing.

“It was also a unique opportunity to fly towards the ship, stare at the bridge, and wonder what the captain is thinking.”

Once alongside the landing spot however, the act of setting the F-35 down is almost identical – except for nudging the jet left, not right – and “the aircraft handled beautifully.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth is coming to the end of nine weeks of intensive jet trials with the second period, since she left New York last month, focused on pushing the boundaries of the F-35, the ship and ship’s company to see how the aircraft perform launching and landing in different weather conditions and carrying various payloads.

The carrier is due home from her Westlant 18 deployment in mid-December.

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