A source has confirmed that Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray will be the first to land the F-35B on HMS Queen Elizabeth next month. 

The Ministry of Defence had previously confirmed the following:

“Four F-35B Lightning developmental test pilots, who are members of the ITF, will embark to fly the aircraft; three British, one American. The British personnel comprise a Royal Navy Commander, a Squadron Leader from the Royal Air Force and one civilian test pilot. They will be joined by a Major from the US Marine Corps”.

However, I have since been told by a source close to the operation that the working plan is for the Royal Navy pilot (Commander Nath Gray) to land first. Subsequently, an RAF pilot will carry out the first take off.

The civilian test pilot and the USMC pilot will likely be embarked onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth via Merlin helicopter. I understand that the MoD was very keen for the honours of first landing and first take off to be granted to British pilots.

My source also told me that ‘availability of aircraft will affect what happens on the day’. It is thus unlikely that any announcement from the Royal Navy will be made until after the first successful landing and take off.

I echo what my colleague George Allison wrote recently:

The first F-35 jets on-board HMS Queen Elizabeth are likely to be American owned aircraft but flown by British and American 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 programme in the JOTT.

The reason that the aircraft to touch down will be American isn’t some scandalous outrage or sign of something terrible, it’s simply that most of the F-35Bs in Joint Operational Test team are American. Just watch how some papers report this, though’


0 0 vote
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

If they had a sense of humor, the first plane to touch down should be a Sopwith Camel. Very doable I’m sure! What? Whaddya MEAN fantasist???



The pilot should be in a Snoopy suit too…



(Chris H) Damn shame Eric Winkle Brown, the greatest military test pilot of all time passed away recently or I am sure he would have given that a go … I can do no better than quote from Wiki: “He was a British Royal Navy officer and test pilot who flew 487 types of aircraft, more than anyone else in history. He was also the most-decorated pilot in the history of the Royal Navy. Brown’s world record for the most aircraft carrier deck take-offs and landings performed (2,407 and 2,271 respectively) still stands and he achieved several “firsts” in naval… Read more »



I am familiar with Winkle Brown. I read his obit in the Telegraph and was very impressed with his accomplishments. Part of that old school generation of achievers that can never be replaced…



I wish their was a like button for this suggestion. Could a Sopwitch Camel handle the ski jump for the takeoff?


Wouldn’t NEED one… Take off in what? 100 feet? Especially with a 20 knot nosewind coming off the bow. The original VSTOL.



But wouldn’t is be great to see

Rob Collinson

Come on, just get on with it!!

Do we have dates for the landings to take place?

Daniele Mandelli

Was there a similar hoo har when the first Sea Harriers landed on Invincible?
Or Phantoms and Buccanears on Ark Royal?

Too young to remember!

Rob Collinson

Me too!

[…] UK Defence Journal previously confirmed that Commander Nathan Gray will be the first pilot to land an F-35 on HMS Queen Elizabeth. […]