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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Rob Collinson

What a superbly written statement. Totally sums up the idiotic and ill-informed reporting which typifies some of our digital and print media in the UK. Utterly shameful practice.

As someone who has followed and studied the production and procurement of the F35 jets, your analysis is top notch.

Keep up the great reporting. I cannot wait to see the way in which some of our media will report this!


Indeed. This should be seen as a perfect example of how the US and UK armed forces are working together so well and how integrated they have become and a great example of how British and US military industries are working together for the common good. Plus it should be commended on getting the Carrier to service in as quick and efficient way possible. Yet the tabloids will focus on a totally insignificant issue and make it out to be an embarrassment. They will of course ignore the fact that it is likely that British aircraft will likely have been… Read more »

Mike Saul

Anyone who has a problem with US owned F35B aircraft landing on UK owned aircraft carriers does not understand how the modern military operates.

The level of cooperation between the UK and US on defence and security matters is something we should be proud of.

Nigel Collins
Peter Shaw

It’s good that in addition to UK pilots they will have some US pilots too. If we are going to work closely with the US we should allow US pilots to also do test landings to build up their experience with the Queen Elizabeth carriers. Inter-operability of US and UK pilots and planes is key to multilateral defence activities. Excellent article and well written and informative.


I mean QE will be deploying for the first time in 2020 with at least one USMC F35 squadron on board as will as likely at least one American escort. So its a good thing that the americans will get some experience operating off her. I just hope in the future maybe we can return the favour and operate some F35s of our own off American amphibious assault ships and more frequently deploy our vessels in American strike groups.


What do you want to bet that that escort will be USS Winston Churchill?



(Chris H) Helions – It would be rather special and very apt given the Navigation Officer of that ship is always an RN Officer and it always flies the RN Ensign at its masthead. We used to return the compliment with HMS Marlborough which always had a US Navy Navigation Officer – sadly decommissioned in 2005.


Quick someone upgrade Marlborough to a city then we can include it in the next batch of Type 26s.


what an amazing fact, I never knew that. why did they pick the NO role specifically?


Also, HMS Marlborough was the first to render aid to the USS Cole after she was attacked at Aden in 2000. The vessel was just returning from deployment and very fortunately had a large medical detachment on board. She immediately diverted to render assistance.



(Chjris H) Julian1 – I stand to be corrected but I believe its because he / she reports to the Captain or in his / her absence the Officer of the Watch (Bridge Officer) and has no crew as such reporting to him / her unless he / she is Bridge Officer. I am sure my naval terms will probably make Gunbuster smile but I hope you get the point!


RIMPAC 18 just kicked off… The Chilean Navy has sent Almirante Lynch FF07 Ex HMS Grafton… Scroll down.

Big operation – hopefully the RN will be in the next one in a BIG way…


Paul T

Helions – slight tangent but Malaysia represented by KD Lekiu,another warship built in the UK.

Mr Bell

Christ we need more ships. Utter disgrace that the RN is in such a state that we will struggle to provide an adequate RN surface warship group for QE.