The first F-35 jets on-board HMS Queen Elizabeth were American owned aircraft but flown by British pilots.

The aircraft that landed on the supercarrier 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 are 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.

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”.

It is understood that the two ‘orange wired’ F-35 test aircraft, belonging to the Integrated Test Force will conduct 500 take offs and landings during their 11-week period at sea.

The MoD recently confirmed that four F‑35B Lightning developmental test pilots embarked 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.

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.

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Peter Crisp

It could be worse, they could be French jets.


Can you elaborate please.


Well, French jets require arrest or wires and catapults. Queen Liz doesn’t have them, so ‘it could be worse’. I think that’s what he meant. Personally, I’d be mortified if it were French jets attempting the first landings.

Peter Crisp

Erm, really?
You need me to explain a bad pun about why the Brits love to moan about the French?

I think Bob gets it though so I’m not entirely insane.


747 Peter


Nah… We are saving those for the Phalanx testing 😉

Roger Wise

Hello Peter, how are you? Last met in Bridgnorth with Dave Griffiths.

John Clark

Love to see a Rafale do a touch and “rocket up the sky jump” like a home sick angel on big Lizzie!

My guess is it would not end well!!

Seriously though, who cares what markings are on the aircraft, let’s just crack on with the testing….

USMC jets will be regular and very welcome guests anyway in the coming years.

Paul T

John-turning 180deg would an F35b be able to land on the CDG I wonder ?.

Andrew Smith

Of course it would. The question is would it be able to take off again with or without weapons


[…] I echo what my colleague George Allison wrote recently: […]

Nigel Collins

There may be trouble ahead!
I wonder how this will affect the flight trials?