The RAF has deployed a Voyager tanker aircraft to US Naval Air Station Patuxent River in support of F-35B Air to Air Refuelling trials.
According to the MoD, approximately 20 flights are scheduled during the test period, of which 5 have been successfully completed to date, with the final flight scheduled during mid-June.
“The flight tests will initially be conducted as ‘dry contacts’ before moving into ‘fuel passing’ at various points throughout the flight envelope. This flight clearance will support Initial Operating Capability and the re-location of 617 Squadron to RAF Marham during 2018.”
According to an RAF article:
“The UK has 19 personnel embedded within the F-35 Development Test Programme at Patuxent River, many of whom are set to embark on a US Marine Corps amphibious vessel for the third and final set of Development Test Sea Trials for the F-35B, ahead of the UK’s own F-35B Ship Integration trials which are scheduled to take place on board HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.”
The F-35B’s maiden operational deployment is set for late 2017 and its bound for the Western Pacific. The jet will deploy aboard an amphibious flattop and the US Marine Corps are planning a more powerful escort force to support it, according to Admiral Scott Swift, head of Pacific Fleet, as reported by the Marine Times. The F-35B has already flown from American assault ships as part of a series of tests, which largely went well.
The UK plans to purchase 138 of the type as costs continue to fall and issues with the jet are rapidly resolved.