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.

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[…] post Why F-35 trials aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth will be conducted by American jets flown by British pilot… appeared first on UK Defence […]


Scandalous! Not. Who gives a FF. British pilots working up QE’s capabilities and a steady rate.


Well no wonder they are American UK is only buying 48 aircraft most of those are going to 617 Sq Seems that UK are going back on the deal looking to buy more EuroFighters cannot land on the two carriers so both carriers will end up with two aircraft each

Steve M

I’d treat everything you read in the Daily Express with a tonne of salt.


wont buying the f-35 just make us more dependent on US. i mean the Norwegians found it out the hard way. f-35 transfers back all its flight path and mission log and almost everything back to the lockheed martin headquarter in US. also the strings attached like taking their permission to use it in offensive roles. this is indeed a shame ful thing i mean we must stop with this crap.


The Americans were reliant on microchips for their space program supplied from the far east. The Harrier has 40% British components. We live in an age were everyone seems reliant on everyone else.


Did the Americans have to ask permission from the manufacturers to use the microchips in their space program?


All of which was agreed to at the beginning of the program to anyone who follows these things, not casual readers of newspaper trolls. Britain had a seat at the table and helped to design the F-35B production variant. There’s even a Youtube interview just put up with one of the British test pilots that helped to test the then prototype B variant. Do yourself favor and research these things and stop relying on tabloids and newspaper trolls. ALICE etc is not a surprise or a some sort of an American imposed condition, it’s been a part of F-35 program… Read more »


Where is your source that the MoD are planning on buying more Eurofighters and less F 35’s. Oh wait its all just bollocks isn’t it (if you’ll excuse the language).


Actually I have to apologies. It would appear that there is a little truth behind what you said Colin and I do humbly apologise. Lets hope your wrong though!


I wonder of there isn’t an even bigger politicsl picture if you include the German’s debate on Eurofighter versus F-35.

Steve M

I’m still highly sceptical. They’re currently negotiating the F-35 price for any further purchases, seems like brinkmanship to me.

Ben P

Only one carrier is active at a time.


This gets to the heart of the matter. Isn’t F-35B really just a Harrier replacement and Typhoon the Tornado replacement?

Paul T

Paul.P yes your right the F35b is the Harrier replacement but for Tornado I’m not actually sure the RAF/MOD have even stated what their to be replaced with- might just be the case that the Typhoons will quietly and effectively take over the roles and no-one questions it.


(Chris H) Paul T – Not quite correct. The Typhoon has been undergoing a very major upgrade programme (Operation Centurion) precisely to take over the Tornado role in 2019. Indeed the weapons migrated have also been upgraded themselves with Meteor missiles added.

The F-35B enhances and enables the Typhoon’s strike capabilities given its suppression and data link capabilities.

Paul T

Chris – that’s not quite correct,yes with project Centurion the Typhoon has/is receiving significant upgrades to its capability but the original plan was for Typhoon to equip 7 Squadrons, 5 to replace the Tornado F3 in Air defence/QRA duties,the other 2 Squadrons were stated to replace 2 Jaguar Squadrons in swing role duties,ive never read anywhere information that suggests that Typhoon was replacing Tornado GR4,but obviously over time budgets have shrunk and plans have changed and we are where we are.


(Chris H) Paul T – forgive me but we are discussing current and recent plans and I think we have all moved on from plans about Jaguar and the Tornado F3 which go back maybe 20 years.

The roots of this MoD decision that Typhoon would replace Tornado in ‘GR’ roles can be traced to SDSR2010 and it instigated a major upgrade programme (Centurion) to support that decision. I must admit I thought this was widely known.

Harry Bulpit

If I remember correctly there was talk when the f35 was initially conceived, it was expected that the RAF would get a mixed fleet of both A and B, to replace Tornado.

Daniele Mandelli

Interesting. That little fact had escaped me.

The BK 1 2 and 4 are the 3 that will remain permanently in the US I believe?

John Clark

Quite, no issue there, the flight trials are a true joint effort and the F35B/QE Carrier integration trials are no different.


Hmm I see a market for removable roundels ……



I was thinking the same thing.


Whoops. Sorry. Didn’t scroll down to your post before posting the same link.


Might also be a geopolitical transatlantic trade ‘message’ given recent NHS / Iran spats

Sceptical Richard

Doesn’t matter who owns the planes! Exercising and qualifying the capability to make sure it works is the main thing! The sad bit is that we won’t be able to do SRVL until PoW commissions and then only experimentally at first…. Ah well, one step at a time…


Why is that? Come to think of it I think I remember some clever instrument to guide pilots in for SRVL landings that is going in first on PoW. Am I remembering that correctly and is that the answer to my question? Also, why your caveat about “only experimentally at first”? Obviously first tests are always experiments but I get the feeling that there is a deeper point behind your comment. Again, guessing my own answer, I suppose that’s because even when the experiments prove it is viable on PoW she will still be working up and our only operational… Read more »


(Chris H) Sceptical Richard – You are right and wrong Sir. The sharing of development is indeed a huge benefit to all concerned. The Americans value our innovation and ways of looking at problems and we value their Dollars. Where I think you are wrong is on two fronts. SRVL is not dependent on PoW and after initial qualification SRVL will be developed onto QE. Walk before we run concept. What will not be on QE initially is the ‘Bedford Array’ lighting which aids approach to a moving deck. I understand it will be applied to PoW and then later… Read more »

Sceptical Richard

Guys, I’m happy to be corrected as well. I’m just reflecting what I’ve read. Bedford Array that will enable SRVL will only be available at first on PoW. So I’m guessing initial landing trials and subsequent operations on QE1 (until first refit?) will be vertical landing only? Also I read that the initial installation on PoW will not be an operational fit, but rather a trials fit, suggesting clearance for operational use will not be forthcoming for a while? I would have thought that these trials could have been done on land and the equipment installed on PoW could have… Read more »


Just the same as the F-16 and Panavia Tornado and Typhoon programmes that were also multinational the test and evaluation squadrons will be multinational for F-35. This is actually a strong positive as it allows for the burden to be spread around and knowledge to be exchanged.

The first to land on deck will be British owned to maintain the symbolism after the moment, after that the more Americans the better if it helps speed the carriers path into full service.

(They can also bring some MV-22 along to play as well)


Makes perfectly logical sense, however for as they say symbolic reasons it’s would be nice if the first to land would be British, is it difficult to fly them from the west coast? But at the same time as long as the pilots are British and we actually have jets it’ll be really something


So the whole F-35 program will have data on SRVL? If so be interesting to see what the US Marines make of its benefits.


(Chris H) Paul P – two of the output developments of SRVL are the ‘Bedford Array’ and a ‘Plateau’ approach methodology. The UK funded and developed SRVL and QinetiQ produced the ‘Bedford Array’ (actually designed by a Harrier pilot) deck lighting system using a vAAC Harrier as far back as 2008 on Illustrious and CdeG French carriers. The system and methodologies are currently under trials for the US Navy and USMC for carrier borne F-35s. Not sure if it can be applied to legacy aircraft like the F-18 but they are in their last phases anyway. Basically a set of… Read more »


Good indo. Thx. I also would be interested to know what the USM pilots think of the ski jump.


(Chris H) some typically polarised views in this Thread. There is no ‘Either / Or’ position. Lets accept some basic facts: * The F-35 in all forms cannot deliver what the latest Typhoon can and will next year. Bolt on wing pylons and ‘Stealth’ goes out the window. * The Typhoon does not have some of the sensor and suppression capabilities the F-35 has * Combining the two enables and enhances the strike capabilities of a Typhoon. Even now F-35s are controlling weapons launched ‘stand off’ by a Typhoon. The F-35s are the suppressing and enabling asset, the Typhoon is… Read more »


I agree; an order now for a Typhoon Tranche 4 for the RAF is the right thing. It might also tip the balance of the German debate on Typhoon versus F-35 by enabling shared development costs.


(Chris H) Given the ‘Real Politik’ of today we need to be more supportive of our European (not I didn’t say EU) connections in regard to security. A boost to Typhoon production for the RAF would re-assure Saudi Arabia, give the Germans a nudge and disprove what the Eu is trying to fabricate that we are untrustworthy and therefore need to be sidelined in technical and security matters (not that that will benefit France and Germany of course). It will also send a none too subtle message to the Americans that as Queen Victoria once observed: “We are not amused”… Read more »


Typhoon II indeed, but sooner. We should look to get parts of the “BAE Replica” project joined together with as much as possible existing tech as an upgrade path to typhoon. Don’t make it expensive and re-invent the wheel for the first iteration just use existing engine, avionics etc and try and get a stealthyish airplane as part of you upgrade path. You then have something you can sell as a cheaper upgrade path to all current users of Typhoon as you are re-using current spares stockpiles and have commonality. This gives you an alternate path for Germany to upgrade… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli

Why is a possible lesser buy of F35 a bad thing?

We still keep our 15% of the thousands built in the entire programme.
We maintain Warton with a British jet.
We save a small fortune if they are indeed cheaper, saving god knows what assets from being cut.
We replace remaining Tornado with more Typhoon.
The entire F35 buy, which still needs to have a second tranche to enable carrier surge, goes directly to the Fleet Air Arm.


What is the minimum number of F35b we would need for the carriers? If we get that, then perhaps it’s not so bad after all.

How much would the savings equate to? And, when would the savings materialise? I’d imagine that these savings wouldn’t affect the defence budget until the mid 2020’s since we already have ordered and scheduled deliveries for the first 48 out to 2023.

It’s not clear to me how this makes any immediate savings or why the decision is to be be made now….

Daniele Mandelli

Mod budget works differently than others as so much is long lead costs out to a decade ahead or more. Just like this possible 4 to 20 billion hole in budget is not short term either but over many years.

Daniele Mandelli

We need enough to surge 1 carrier with what 36 jets?

Those wanting 2 carriers with fully equipped air groups are forgetting the plan, which was never to use 2 carriers at once with a full complement of F35.

Would 60 be enough then? 3 12 aircraft squadrons, with 24 others for OCU, OEU, and reserve. Any military here with a better idea if this works?

Add to that 40 new Typhoon?

Stephen G.

If we only have enough to surge 1 carrier, what happens if this carrier is sunk taking them all with it? We will be left with a carrier without jets. To avoid this situation we need say 36 on one and at least 12, if not 24, on the other.

Daniele Mandelli

Of course. You have attrition reserves, trials and OCU aircraft as well which in all out war would be used surely.


agreed…..and base them at yeovilton…


that was meant as a reply to your previous comment about FAA taking ownership of f35b

Daniele Mandelli

Would mean another fortune spent to bring Yeovilton up to standard of Marham though.

HAS for starters.


So Guys is this what UK is looking at The Naval Version of Typhoon

If so there seems to be a problem with the forward canards are located and your view on landing? on Carriers


(Chris H) On what the QE flight trials will entail including SRVL I hope this makes interesting reading. Make coffee you’ll need it. Or if you want to skip to page 6 of 8 for the SRVL / Bedford Array part

Rob Collinson

Could we get a link to the full document?mThe 8 pages were a good read but there was much left out which would be interesting to read with a large glass of port in the evening sun!


(Chris H) Rob Collinson – I suspect if I copy / paste the rest of the article I would be infringing copyright. This is a preview copy available to all. To see the rest and do your glass or three of Port justice you will have to subscribe to Jane’s Defence Weekly

“Other Defence publications are available …”

Sceptical Richard

Thanks Chris. This confirms my doubt as to whether SRVL would be part of the trial or not. I thought Bedford Array was not going to be fitted until PoW, but test pilots can obviously try this on QE1 without it.


To me it is a silly but essential for optics for the first f35 to land on the carrier to be British owned and piloted. In the world optics is important and we need to make it clear that this is not a US carrier being brought by UK tax payers. Protecting ourselves from optics is an important part of ‘soft power’, which needs to be remembered.

J Barrett

“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.”

So… we have more for front line ops than testing.



p.s. after the 1st landing who cares, the media would have moved on and the testing can continue in the background using what ever planes or pilots they need to complete the trials efficiently.

[…] says the F35 is coming to our shores… just not to QEII… Who pays? […]

Bloke down the pub

When the first Israeli F35s were flown from the States, they had US insignia on them which were peeled off on arrival to show the Star of David underneath. So the idea of applying a UK roundel over the US markings has precedent. In fact, going back further, RN aircraft flying in the Pacific suffered from friendly fire because of the similarity of the roundel to the Japanese rising sun emblem. As a result, the RN aircraft were painted with a US star, so perhaps the Navy should push this as a sign of our continued close co-operation with our… Read more »


It’s for the same reason the USN and the U.S. Army Air Corps eliminated the red “meatball” in the center of the national insignia which had been there since the 20’s. Losing too many aircraft to friendly fire was bad for aircrew morale (imagine that?).



One wonders what the MOD was smoking back in the late 90’s early 2000’s when they ordered 232 Typhoon, 138 F35B and a plan for 100 or so FCA to replace Tornado. Would have had the biggest air force outside of the USA. Typhoon production won’t last much longer, it’s a dated design. Little chance of a manned aircraft being built post F35 either. No doubt typhoon will be replaced by a combination of F35E/F and some form of UCAV. Over time we will fill our 138 F35 orders but we will only ever get 48 B models. Then 80… Read more »


(Chris H) – One could point out that in the very era of Me109s and the most advanced battleships of all time Swordfish bi-planes crippled the Bismarck to the point where its end became a certainty. And they did so because the battleships Ack Ack were so advanced and automatic they couldn’t lower themselves to the wave skipping heights of the ‘Stringbags’ flown by very brave and skilled pilots. Anyone who thinks future conflicts will revolve solely around versions of Xbox need to get out more and understand battles and wars are won by the innovative and clever people with… Read more »


It’s all about numbers, the vast majority of Spending on an aircraft over its life is pilot training, mainatiance etc. UCAV’s don’t need training. You can afford to buy a lot more of them and you can deploy a lot more of them at the same time. Even if a Pilots is better you can probably operate 10 times more UCAV’s for the same price. Developing manned aircraft is now so eye wateringly expensive it needs not one but two continents to do it. If 6th generation goes the same way as 5th generation then the UK will end up… Read more »


(Chris H) Well we have given away Taranis and MAGMA to the French who have now taken all our technology and gifted it to Airbus and the Germans (all in the cause of EU unity of course) so whatever lead we did have with UCAV we have none now. ‘6th Gen’ is a total pipedream and no doubt the invention of some American company looking to do deals. Just like they ‘invented’ the term Supercruise when they finally got an aircraft (F-22) to do it while we did it in the late ’50s. I am not too sure anyone can… Read more »


I’m not convinced by a Tyohoon II with out LO capability. Sure stealth can be defeated but it’s difficult. The Chinese and Russians will be able to do it but most of the countries we are ever likely to bomb will be way behind the curve. We have plenty of typhoons for QRA,typhoon will be a great missile carrier to combine with F35 and 48 is as much as we can hope for. Neithr patform is well suited to deep strike and recon, but such a Mission is so dangerous I think it should be the preserve of a UCAV.… Read more »