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’