HMS Queen Elizabeth will meet her first F-35 jets any day now, so what’s going to happen?

The event will be the first time an F-35 has ever landed on a non-American 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.

Over the course of the following weeks, the four pilots will conduct around 500 take offs and landings. The Royal Navy also confirmed that 200 engineers and experts from the F-35 Integrated Test Force based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in the United States will embark on HMS Queen Elizabeth to monitor the F-35 trails, including how it performs in varying sea states.

It is understood that the trials support staff will be joined by two ‘orange wired’ F-35 test aircraft, belonging to the Integrated Test Force (ITF), which are expected to conduct 500 take offs and landings during their 11-week period at sea.

After speaking to one of the pilots in the test programme, I was informed that the UK only has three (BK1, 2 & 4) test jets that are “orange wired” to take data for post-flight analysis and these are based in the United States where they are contributing to the trials and development programme. Therefore, it is highly likely that the jets to go on HMS Queen Elizabeth will be “mostly, if not entirely, American but flown by UK pilots”.

The reason that most if not all of the aircraft to touch down will be American isn’t some scandalous outrage (as I always warn, just watch how some papers report this) but rather most of the F-35Bs in Joint Operational Test team are American.

I was told by one of the UK pilots currently flying the jet that the reason for this is that the JOT team dictate the availability of test jets out of a pool.

“It would be nothing more than symbolic to make UK jets available for the trials and that comes at a significant effort since all of them are based at Edwards AFB in California, not on the East Coast where the ship trial is due to take place. 

Therefore, the most obvious and cheaper choice is to use the F-35B test jets based at Pax River, which are US ones. British test pilots like Andy Edgell, Nath Gray, will obviously fly them but there’ll be US pilots too because that’s how Joint Test works.”

The aim of these initial, or ‘developmental’ trials are to ascertain, through the specially equipped aircraft and sensors around the ship, the operating parameters of the aircraft and ship, in a range of conditions.

30 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t really see the point of the RAF owning UK’s F-35B’s, unless they plan to forward base them at bases in Poland or Romania. Even if the RAF acquired the F-35A, it will struggle to make a non-stop flight deep into Eurasia without air refuelling. Better to give the F-35B’s to the FAA, at least they will be forward deployed on a QE carrier.
    The F-35 is due to acquire a major upgrade in capability when Block 4 build is release in 2022. This is a most likely reason of why the MoD is holding back on procuring more F-35B’s at the present time. The older Block built F-35B’s will need to be upgraded at a cost.

      • the whole thing is ugly, the most expensive, ugly untried bunch of models made from old toilet roll holders and cornflake packets we’ve been had over with the f 35, its all a big marketing con that will result in less money for other more important hardware the worst thing of all, the u.k fell for it.

  2. (Chris H) I still hold the view that the symbolism of an RAF / FAA F-35B landing first on the QE is absolutely huge and if the Navy or MoD cannot see that and just dismiss it as “nothing more than symbolic” then no wonder the media are always putting out negative crap. They need to stand back from the detail and look at the wider picture and realise they are funded by UK taxpayers who need to be informed, satisfied and kept on board (literally).

    Evidently we can have QE sail all the way across the Atlantic with a Type 23 and Tide Class in attendance, have 200 experts and 3 artics full of equipment shipped on board, have testing rigs and data sensors fitted all over the ship in Norfolk VA but we can’t afford to fly a UK ‘Orange wired’ aircraft across the USA to make a priceless once in a lifetime media image for home consumption?

    Excuse me while I do a #FacePalm

    And if our three are part of the ITF what are they doing in Edwards AFB and not at Petuxent?

    • I couldn’t agree more Chris.
      Don’t give a monkeys who’s aircraft after but the first historic landing needs to be British aircraft and British pilot.

      • Being new here but not new to this whole Subject, I’m quite relaxed with the way this integration of Brand new Carrier and Brand new F35 Is going. Why does It Really matter if a British aircraft and British Pilot Has to be the first to Land on HMS Queen Elizabeth ? My Old ship had A mix of British and American Aircraft and the F4 too. I’m more than Ecstatic to see Our New Carriers and aircraft at last, Getting It On. This Is a 50 Year investment after all.

      • doesN’T HAVE to its an aircraft carrier, get the bloody planes on it.who will get to press the start button on the next overrated overpriced lump of junk? i couldn’t care if it was a gerbil

    • Well, I for one don’t care whose aircraft it is, or who’s pilot it is. I just want them to spend my taxes as efficiently as possible while creating a world beating military capability.

    • The UK F-35Bs are at Edwards AFB because that is where the weapons testing is done for the F-35Bs. They take advantage of the weapons test ranges in California and Nevada. Pax River is not equipped with a test range to test the integration of Paveway, etc. into the F-35B.

    • The three UK Orange wired F35Bs are NOT part of the Integrated Test Force. They are a separate UK Sqn, 17 (R) Sqn, which are conducting flight trials out of Edwards Air Force Base.

      • (Chris H) To all – OK so not part of ITF sorry but still test aircraft? Regardless of WHY they are in California we have been planning this exercise for about 3 years. And no one could find a way to get a UK F-35 into Petuxent for a week or so? After the first few landings it could be replaced by a US aircraft from Petuxent if necessary

        We will only ever do this first landing once and we have blown it if it isn’t British. We here may understand the rationale but British media will have a negative field day:
        “The UK hasn’t the capability to land its own F-35s on its own new aircraft carrier. Once again the USA comes to the UK’s rescue”

        Good innit?

        It is just DUMB! Given the money we are spending doing this we can afford to fly one to the East Coast thats my point.

        • Trouble is Chris you potentially get hosed either way. Fly an F35B across the US and the headlines read “Govt wastes defence budget on meaningless PR stunt”. Its just a question of if its a Sun/Mail headline or a Guardian one … or maybe all of them just because its easier to focus on the negative and false outrage for readership.

        • I agree. I get Geoff what you say about stunt but still pics will be there for ever. Pr is pr after all. If not temporarily put RAF roundels just for the first landing and then take them off again.

          • (Chris H) You only get to make a first impression once in history.

            And if the trials go well and she gets FW certification then fly on the 3 remaining production aircraft before she does the flag visit to New York in October and then bring them back here when she returns. Fly them off from the Solent with the Merlins. Don’t tell me that isn’t a good image

    • Dont be a spanner todays landings were the C/O of the training sq bookmarking his Flight Logs last Harrier pilot to leave a RN Carrier and the 1st to land on a QE class. BUT the crashing of a F35B in the USA but a bit of a damp squid on it and they have clammed up.

  3. In the era of gesture politics this decision tells us a lot about the current mindset at the very top in Britain. They don’t understand the concept of national prestige or even care when it comes to defence, which is underscored by its albeit zero profile in very nearly all national debates except to state how much a piece of equipment costs and how it could be spent on x number of hospitals or y number of schools. The Yanks and French to name two obvious countries would never allow this to happen it is that simple.

      • We need to work on changing that mindset. We had a bit of a turn around with the whole help for heroes etc, but still need to change how we sell our military and perceive them day to day.

        • (chris H) Only in the UK would the media get away with calling two of the most advanced and biggest ships ever to enter RN service ‘expensive white elephants’.

          But who was taking bragging rights in ’82 when similar carriers and other ships brought back our victorious lads and lasses ? Media hypocrisy isn’t a new thing

  4. As always the Government and the MOD miss the point and loose the chance to have positive media about the QE, F35’s and the Royal Navy shame on you all

  5. As an American, I never really understood to British propensity for not capitalizing on their investment in terms of defense. The QE carriers are a prime example. These tests should be taking place off the coast of the UK, using UK aircraft. She should steam into Portsmouth afterward with F-35’s on deck, the Royal Family waiting on the pier, with the Marine band playing Heart of Oak, Rule Britiania and so forth. Huge opportunity missed.

  6. Look, although HMSQnlz is a superb British achievement that deserves to be shown off around the world, the F-35 program (sic-I’m a Yank) is very much a joint technical achievement. Additionally, #westlant18 is all about international military cooperation.
    Lastly, this is also public diplomacy, for our friends and our not-so-friendlies.
    If we assume that Government and MOD want to reaffirm the strength of the special relationship–if that is a goal, then the way these trials are being done makes perfect sense.
    More bluntly, I think this joint exercise is a giant thumb in Putin’s eye. This is exactly what we all should be doing given Salisbury, recent election interference, Ukraine, Syria, etc. Not for nothing will the Wessexes soon visit the Baltics.
    On a more personal level, I can’t wait to see HMSQnlz in New York. I hope to enjoy the sight while I take the Staten Island Ferry across the harbor.
    The symbolism of HMSQnlz in New York will resonate around the world.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here