Supercarrier HMS Queen Elizabeth is expected to sail for the second phase of her helicopter trials tomorrow.

After these trials the vessel will sail back into Portsmouth and then she will sail for the United States for F-35 trials in Autumn.

A very informative timelime from Save The Royal Navy.

Recently we reported that the first jets that will perform F-35 trials on-board HMS Queen Elizabeth will be mostly American owned aircraft but flown by British pilots.

The aircraft that will be landing on the supercarrier will belong to the Joint Operational Test team. The team’s mission is to build confidence in the aircraft towards helping clear the F-35 to make the legally mandated advance from Low Rate Initial Production to Full Rate Production. The RAF’s No 17 (Reserve) Test and Evaluation Squadron comprises ten percent of the test program in the JOTT we understand.

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

After speaking to one of the pilots in the test programme, we understand that the UK only has three (BK1, 2 & 4) test jets that are “orange wired” to take data for post-flight analysis, the rest being operational aircraft. Therefore, it is highly likely that the jets to go on HMS Queen Elizabeth later this year will be “mostly, if not entirely, American but flown by UK pilots”.

We were 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. Our contact said:

“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.”

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman confirmed:

“As the US’s biggest partner in the F-35 programme, we jointly own test jets which are on track to fly off the deck of our new aircraft carrier later this year. We will continue to work with our American allies on these trials, and plan for the first momentous landing on HMS Queen Elizabeth to be a British pilot.”

Just wait for this perfectly reasonable bit of trivia to become the subject of the next overblown and sensationalised headlines regarding the new aircraft carriers.

23 COMMENTS

    • Or they could not test/qualify and lose a few aircrew in “live” environments. They’re actually accomplishing what they need to faster than everyone expected so I’ve heard, including the first F-35’s arriving from today.

  1. Looking at the time line for the F35, it looks like 11 years before there will be 30 frontline aircraft. It’s little surprise that people today say it’s an aircraft carrier with no aircraft. Not only aren’t there enough F35s there are not enough Merlin HM2’s . I cast my mind back to HMS Ark Royal in 1976, 14 Phantoms, 14 Buccaneers, 8 Sea King HAS1, 3 Gannet ARE 3 and 1 Wessex plane guard. In comparison HMS Queen Elizabeth has a small So rainy.

    • I think there are two main reasons for this. First the defence cuts between 2010-2015 under the ConDems and second the way the F35 program is being run with concurrent testing and service entry.

    • the problem with military tech is it keeps getting progressively more expensive. 1 x F35b could probably take out the whole of the ark royal strike group and yet probably costs a magnitude more than any of the planes on board.

  2. The negative press of American aircraft being the first to land on HMS Queen Elizabeth would be significant. Move the jets from Edwards…

    • I’d be very surprised if Plan A isn’t to make very sure that at least one of the U.K. orange wired planes is flight ready for the first landing. That will be quite symbolic and would generate a lot of bad press if the publicity images coundn’t show a plane with RAF roundels doing the first ever landing on QEC. After that it sounds as if they will be picking whatever plane has undergone maintenance and is flight ready again with no real concern about whether it is a US or a U.K. one and that seems very sensible. I do wonder though, given the PR sensitivities, whether there is a Plan B to stick roundels on a US plane and temporarily second it into the UK fleet if they really can’t schedule the timing of maintenance of the UK’s 3 test aircraft to make one available for the first landing.

  3. RAF/FAA Roundels would be nice for the first fixed wing touch down .. That said, I’m more interested in a successful initial flight test program, whatever the nationality of the Aircraft or the pilot.

    After all, its a true joint program and I am sure the USMC and LM are both very keen to see how the F35B integrates with QE

  4. Will she have her Phalanx fit when she leaves harbour? Curious if anyone knows when they will be installed? Thanks everyone!

    • I haven’t yet heard the 30mm Or miniguns have been fitted. She needs better self-defence systems than what’s planned so far. In war things often don’t go as planned.

      Great to see progress with the air group. We’re getting there slowly.

  5. Just goes to show how well managed this whole programme has been, on time and budget.

    Great.

    It bodes well for the solid support, T31 and T26 builds in my opinion. We are definitely a capable nation in building warships again.

    • I agree. It’s very dangerous to adopt the “we’re doomed” attitude based on issues in the past. That can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Look at the embarrassing history of delays and other issues building the new Wembley stadium that were all over the news at the time and then the UK construction industry goes on to build an entire Olympic park on time and for a budget of $15bn vs $40-44bn for Beijing (Wikipedia data). There is no reason not to strive for, and to expect, excellence moving forward.

  6. (Chris H) ‘word is’ that the departure for the next phase of helicopter trials has been postponed. In addition the F-35s are not crossing the Atlantic to Marham due to bad weather. Sounds like there is a common theme …

    • June 5th. A date with a history of military events being postponed…

      …yet when they go ahead, they usually lead to fruition.

  7. I understand that the carriers would only take up a hostile position if there were sufficient allied naval ships for protection. What happens if the Chinese ‘buzzed’ them whilst cruising in the far east with only RN protection? Would they retire to distant neutral waters? It appears that only a complement of two aircraft would be sufficient for foreign port ‘showing the flag’ visits. What a total waste of RN resources these carriers are – and all for a few hundred of Gordon Brown’s scottish shipyard jobs during construction! His decision has emasculated the RN & RAF for the next 50 years.

  8. Development and OT&E trials take a very long time, require many DLODS to come together at the same time, never mind Contractor support, so a few days here and there make no difference. Better be ready and do it right than keep to schedule and drop the ball. Let’s all keep a cool head and give these guys the space to do the very professional job they will no doubt do. Anyway, there is no operational imperative so why take unnecessary risks.

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