A little over a week and a half ago, Lockheed-Martin’s F-35 Lightning II reached another milestone. With BAE Systems test pilot Pete Wilson at the controls, F-35B test vehicle BF-04 successfully made it’s first ski-jump takeoff at NAS Patuxtent River, Maryland.
A test ramp has been constructed at Pax River for this and subsequent tests for the F-35B’s carrier suitability, paving the way for its future deployment on aircraft carriers for both the British Royal Navy and Italian Navy. Both countries plan to deploy their STOVL-variants of the JSF aboard carriers equipped with a ski jump, which allows for a higher gross takeoff weight, despite the short runway distance.
By contrast, the U.S. Navy’s F-35Cs will be launched with the new electromagnetic aircraft launch system, or EMALS. The U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford, CVN-78, will be the first aircraft carrier to be equipped with the catapults. A successful launch of the Navy JSF using EMALS was conducted in late 2011.
The United Kingdom currently has plans to buy a fleet of nearly 140 Joint Strike Fighters, all of them STOVL variants, whereas Italy expects to purchase 90 F-35s, one third of them B-models. The HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier is due to be commissioned in the Royal Navy next year, with the HMS Prince of Wales to follow on probably in 2017. Italy’s Cavour aircraft carrier will need to undergo modifications in order for its F-35s to operate from the deck.
(Featured Photo courtesy of Andrea Kay, BAE Systems)