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.


  1. 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

      • 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 since onset and you can find internet references to it dating back to the mid 2000s. The fact that you and newspaper trolls don’t understand that shows how limited your knowledge is on the subject.

    • 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).

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

        • 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.

          • 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.

          • 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.

  2. 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?

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

  4. 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 carrier at that point (QE) won’t be able to adopt the procedure immediately until she gets the gizmo fitted. Is that the point?

      I agree, that is all sad. I’m pretty anxious to see how SRVL works out in practice. Being able to come back with a full weapons load seems a pretty critical capability to me.

    • (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 to QE at refit. But I am happy to be corrected.

      • 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 been of an operational standard. But I admit I don’t know the exact details. I know test pilots do things that regular squadron pilots don’t until a Release to Service is achieved for whatever capability we might be talking about. So, I guess I’m not ruling out SRVL altogether, just not in regular squadron operational service until who knows when? We haven’t been told. I think/hope it’s probably safe to assume that the capability will be available by the time F-35 deploys operationally on QE1 with weapons embarked. Let’s hope so…

  5. 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)

  6. 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

  7. 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 lights moves along or back on a deck to counter any deck movements and gives the approaching pilot a more consistent and therefore secure approach. This would make landing mirrors and other visual and audio aids redundant and reduces the uncontrolled aspects of deck landings

  8. (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 the delivery asset. Together they form a world beating combination while individually they deliver STOVL / carrier strike (F-35B) and QRA / multi – / Switch – role (Typhoon).

    We clearly need both and the Tranche 1s being put back into front line service will need replacing soon as they run out of service hours. Plus they cannot be upgraded as the airframes are very different. So we MUST buy more Typhoons. My personal view is that we should now be contracting BAE to build a Typhoon II given Airbus are now tucked up with Dassault and see no future after ‘Typhoon I’. If the Italians want to co-operate great if not great as well. That Typhoon II could be built using current or developed systems and assets but with a rear end similar to the F-35 (which BAE designed and are building anyway) and add in the sorely missed naval capability which when created in the design stage adds very little in manufacturing costs. QE comes up for her first major refit in 2040 at the latest. When does ‘Typhoon I’ come out of service? 2040. And when will the first trances of F-35B come out of service? 2045.

    Basically we have 15 years to design, develop and build an aircraft that will replace Typhoon for the roles it does and will do. An F-35B Mark II will also be needed because in its own sphere it will have to develop or be overtaken. The two, even in ‘Mark II’ versions are massively complimentary not competitors. And can we please not kid ourselves we won’t need pilots in 2040. Yes we may well have excellent Taranis II or MAGMA II drones (if the French let us) but please ….

    • 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” by Mr Trump’s attacks on our NHS, Bombardier workers, Steel industry and generally being an arse in Israel. Trump will not be around for ever (6 years tops) and so a ‘standing back’ in that timeframe won’t hurt. Especially as we will be honouring our stated F-35B commitments to 48 of which barely half will have been delivered and we will be paying for 9 new Poseiden aircraft by the time we wave bye bye to Mr Trump. if he survives re-election. I don’t think we should commit to any new US purchases until then.

        And anyway the Red Arrows should be flying Dayglo Red Typhoon Tranche 1s not Hawk trainers. No country has a better advertising capability…

    • 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 their Typhoons instead of upgrading to F35 and it means Britain has a stake in two continuing manufacturing programs.

  9. 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….

      • 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.

      • 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?

        • 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.

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

    • 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 …”

    • 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.

  10. 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.

  11. “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.


  12. 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.

  13. 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 long term ally.

    • 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?).


  14. 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 or so A or E models replacing typhoon.

    Anyone looking at putting a man in a new aircraft post 2040 needs to be taken out and shot. It would be like the Gloster gladiator byplanes fighting ME109’s.

    • (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 brains and are actually there. Like those Stringbag pilots. This does not mean there will not be a growing role for UCAV drones and the like but to think real people with guts won’t be involved is frankly wrong

      • 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 with one or two squadrons.

        At this point Pilots are still better no doubt but any aircraft being designed today will not see operations before 2040 or 2050. By the time it enters service AI will be light years ahead of today.

        In addition with a UCAV the UK could probably go it alone and build its own, we already have a tech demonstrator in Taranis

        As for the string bags they got very lucky, great Pilots terrible aircraft. They were slaughtered just a year later during the Channel dash.

        • (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 readily define ‘5th Gen’ aircraft other than having no style whatsoever. So no chance with ‘6th Gen’.

          A ‘Typhoon II’ need not be stupidly expensive or need partners (which invariably turn racehorses into camels and treble the costs). We have all we need in Typhoon and our development work on F-35 now and given German / French Airbus is off with French Dassault the current Typhoon production lines will end whenever it suits the Germans. At which point we can bring its entire production here or share with the Italians who are also being shafted. We need to assume the worst because that is what the EU is planning for us. So start assembling some designs and prototypes now. We have everything we need here and now ready for delivery in 2035

          Not every new fighter / bomber needs stealth (which disappears with radar use and wing pylons) given we and most of our allies will have F-35. What we need is a more efficient and powerful Typhoon bomb truck / QRA interceptor aircraft and while we are at it design in optional Naval capability in the rear fuselage and undercart ready for CATOBAR if needed. India would buy loads of them.

  15. 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. Build a Taranis derivative capable of carrying 2 2000 lb bombs or a sensor package of 20 SPEAR of brimestone. 40 of them working in conjunction with 48 F35 B and 105 typhoons raised to tranche 4 status with a stand off electronic Attack capability, conformal fuel tanks and AESA radar.

    Also I seriously doubt BAE has transferred any Taranis tech to dassault, Anglo French UCAV aid all but canceled now.

    Countries like Qatar with too much money and not enough pilots will be lining up to buy something like Taranis. If a manned fighter is required in 2040 time frame then hook up with the USN for what ever replaces F18 and have a single force that can operate from land or sea and convert QE class to CATOBAR with EM catapults which should be much easier to make in 20 years time. Hopefully the planes can land themselves by then removing the training problem for carrier landing.


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