The first test bombs have been dropped from F-35 Lightning fighter jets conducting trials on board Britain’s newest aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.
The inert GBU-12 Paveway II laser guided precision bombs were dropped off the east coast of the USA, marking another significant milestone in the carrier’s trials.
Adding the 500lb bombs to the jets for take-off has enabled the trials teams to see how the jets behave when carrying various weights, gathering crucial test data.
It is the first time the American-made bombs have ever been embarked in a UK ship. They are made up of a head, containing the bomb’s computer, the tail and a concrete warhead. As they are test bombs, they carry no explosives.
They are being built onboard by Royal Navy air engineers, supervised by specialist US Navy ordnance ratings from the US aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, further demonstrating the close co-operation between the two key allied nations.
Commander Neil Mathieson, the head of the air engineering department on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, said: “This marks a significant milestone for us. It makes me excited about operational trials next year with the UK’s F-35 Lightning squadrons when we will see live Paveways being dropped. These trials are an important pathway to that point.”
Aviation Ordnanceman Petty Officer 2nd Class Robert Little, of the US Navy, was part of the team overseeing the Royal Navy air engineers on board. He added: “The team has run really well with the work we have done with them, they have come up to speed pretty fast.”
US aircraft carriers have hundreds of sailors involved in arming their aircraft, whereas the highly mechanised weapons handling system on board HMS Queen Elizabeth takes just 40 people to make an F-35 Lightning jet ready for combat operations, thanks to specially-designed automated technology built for the British warship.
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.
More than 1,400 sailors, flight crew and Royal Marines have been working on board the carrier during her deployment.
The Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, will project British military power across the globe for the next half a century.
Construction work continues at a pace on board HMS Prince of Wales, the second aircraft carrier in the class, which nears completion at the Rosyth shipbuilding yard.
They will be used to provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, strengthen defence relationships with our nation’s allies, and support British armed forces deployed around the world.
In recent operations, US aircraft carriers including the USS George HW Bush and USS Harry S Truman have played a central role in the Gulf and Mediterranean, conducting strikes against Daesh in Iraq and Syria.
HMS Queen Elizabeth is on track to deploy on global operations from 2021. Meanwhile, the UK has now taken delivery of 16 out of a planned 138 F-35 jets as part of its world-leading fleet of military aircraft for use by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.