The UK Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) arrived at the Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, USA on Sept. 17 ahead of her First of Class Flight Trials with F-35B Lightning II stealth fighter jets.
Naval Station Norfolk is a U.S. Navy base which is home to six of the U.S. Navy’s eleven supercarriers and it is the world’s largest naval station. At Norfolk, Queen Elizabeth will unload Royal Marine equipment and take on test equipment required for the F-35 flight trials programme.
The F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) is preparing to embark two F-35Bs on board HMS Queen Elizabeth for First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing), or FOCFT (FW), this fall.
Nearly 200 ITF personnel—active duty U.S. and U.K. military, DOD civilians as well as contractors from DOD and industry—will join the ship’s 1,500-person crew in making history when the two jets land on the British carrier. The event will be the first time an F-35 has ever landed on a foreign vessel and it helps bring an end to the eight-year hiatus since a British aircraft carrier last operated a fast jet from its deck.
During two FOCFT (FW) phases, held back-to-back this fall, the team plans to perform a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations to develop the F-35B operating envelope on Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) carriers. They will evaluate jet performance on over 200 test points during different weather and sea conditions as well as the aircraft’s integration with the ship.
A third FOCFT (FW) phase followed by operational testing is scheduled for 2019. Together, the tests will help the U.K. Ministry of Defence reach F-35B initial operating capability (maritime) in 2020.
As a Tier 1 partner in the F-35 program, a group of U.K. personnel have been embedded with the ITF at Pax River and Edwards Air Force Base, California, conducting flight tests since the program’s System Design and Demonstration phase.
To date, the U.K. is home to nine British-owned F-35B Lightnings located at Royal Air Force Marham with the “Dambusters”, or No. 617 Squadron—the RAF’s first F-35B squadron. The RAF is scheduled to declare initial operating capability later this year. In all, the RAF and RN are programmed to purchase 138 F-35Bs over the lifetime of the program.
Queen Elizabeth has completed a 3,400-mile long journey across the Atlantic to the east coast of the USA after departing her homeport of HMNB Portsmouth on Aug. 18. The deployment, known as WESTLANT 18, was the first-time the aircraft carrier has sailed across the Atlantic. The 65,000-tonne carrier arrived at Naval Station Mayport in Florida on Sept. 5 marking her first visit to the U.S.