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.


  1. Long story short, Britain doesn’t have the resources to buy equipment, man and maintain it. That is why 24 Yankee planes will be stationed on the ‘British’ aircraft carriers. It’s as obvious as day follows night that we won’t have full autonomy of use of these carriers…sorry I’m meant helicopter carriers.

      • Robert
        The post if looked at in detail was designed to generate a response. Note how it draws you in with a lack of cash, then expands on that by stating that only ‘Yankee’ jets will be based on British ships, this is followed by an emasculation angle, which he finishes off with a lesser ship statement written surely for a negative response. I’d even go as far to say that the bloke isn’t even named Iqbal as a Muslim name speaking negative about the Uk, will generate more negativity than an Anglo Saxon one.

        Idiots like this get their kicks by winding people up , ignoring them is the best thing to do, as it simply takes the wind out of their sails.

        • Farouk, how’s about you engage with what I wrote?

          Play the ball. Not the man.

          Most of our defence related problems go to the root of our lack of £££ to fund our warmongering.

          Thankfully most people in the UK are like me and not the ‘rule Brittania’ types that hang out here. There are no votes in defence. So you won’t get even the 2% GDP spend, much less 3%.

          • Iqbal – It is accurate to say we need more money but after that truism the rest of your comments are pure Lefty CVD drivel.

            We are not ‘warmongers’. A term right out of the Soviet playbook now adopted by Islamist extremists.

            You allege ” most people in the UK are like me “? Care to identify who you are and what political party, vested interest, religion, local Bingo club or whatever you represent? And where the data is to support that statement?

            You say ‘play the ball not the man’ and then play foul against the whole team here with your crass ‘rule Britannia’ insult. Being patriotic, loving your country and having huge respect for our armed forces are very good attributes. Maybe not in North London or wherever you come from Iqbal. I guess its the part of the British psyche that you haven’t retained let alone understood.

            Your Opening Post was full of holes, non-sequitur statements and had the whiff of hatred toward our way of life:
            * We HAVE the resources
            * There will be BRITISH aircraft on QE’s decks
            * They are BRITISH ships and WE will reatin full authority over them
            * They are NOT LHDs….

            Now care to engage in a factual discussion and leave the political trigger phrases and confirmation bias out of it? Iqbal?

  2. Are we sure it was an American jet that made the first landing? If so the reason was just poor planning, there are test airceaft that belonging to the UK and one of them could have and should have been used for the first landing, after that who cares. They had years to plan for the right air frames to be in the right place for it.

      • Why would we want to tie one of our few very expensive fighters up with carrier testing and bolted on sensors. Great that we’ve been able to use someone else’s.

        • Hi Anthony.

          Because it would have been one of our 3 test planes that won’t leave the US anyway, so would not impact on IOC of 617.

          If it’s of no importance why not use US pilots throughout. Don’t bother with any Brits as it’s only testing and we get the capability anyway. But they didn’t did they, they used 3 brit pilots and one from the USMC. That bit was important to them but not the machine. But the public see the machine, not the pilot. Both should have been British IMO.

          PR, symbolism and national prestige seem lost on so many if the higher ups, but are extremely important to me.

          We all enjoy seeing a British Carrier. Well I want to see a British plane land on it!

          However. The historic first is now over. So, as said previously from now I’m past caring!

          • British pilots were some of the first to land F35B on the Wasp. That’s the point of a joint project you share costs and resources. The fact is the project requirement is to successfully test the use of the F35B on a UK Carrier. The Project management team will have a resources and a budget to do this, some US some UK.

            Threre is no benefit is using UK resources and additional cost, we’re not going to get better test data just because we used a UK aircraft. I’m quite happy we have not wasted valuable budget ‘gold plating’ a requirement.

  3. (Chris H) – well the ‘symbolism’ was clearly lost on the powers that be. Golden opportunity lost for no valid reason. My views on its importance are well rehearsed so I won’t repeat them. We jog on ….

    However credit where its due and someone DID take the trouble to paint out the tail marking and paint in the unique logo and ‘QNLZ identifiers. Well done whoever it was. And was it by accident the US nose markings were half ‘removed’?

    And din’t that take off look drama free compared to those off the USS Essex? Good interview with Nathan Gray post event when he said that they were chuffed at the first landings but were immediately into the test programme which WILL include SRVL. Another Uk first.

    For the Navy purists amongst us: Gray is an RAF (4 Squadron) pilot but has served with the FAA (800 Squadron) on Ark Royal, Illustrious and then USS America with the ITF. So QE is his 4th ship.

  4. (Chris H) – Sorry should have added that one of the F-35s had all US nose markings erased and had a colour tail logo and the other had a grey tail logo and US markings. Again someone did think about this … Well done them

    • I think you are giving them too much credit, if they thought about it they could have removed all us markings and out FAA ones instead. Minimal cost but a PR gain. It seems to be half done which indicates luck rather than planning.

      Anyhow doesn’t matter, just highlights why the armed forces image and therefore budget is a mess. Government is all about image and so playing odd that as much as possible is needed to get extra money.

  5. There really doesn’t seem to be anything tangible in the press about America planes. Some great photos and videos as well as interviews with UK pilots available.

    The Drive posted a good article with some interesting and genuine technical questions.


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