In October 2015, a pair of Lockheed Martin F-35Cs from the US Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron Two Three (VX-23) and a test team from Patuxent River deployed aboard the USS Eisenhower (CVN-69) for the test period dubbed Developmental Test II. The “Mighty Ike” steamed off the mid-Atlantic seaboard while the two F-35Cs and a cadre of test pilots performed a host of scripted evolutions designed to expand and validate the performance and handling characteristics of the 5th generation jets as they operated off the carrier.
“We need to come out to the ship to test integration with the carrier and the ship’s company,” says Tom Briggs, Air Vehicle Lead Engineer of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. “So we focused our testing on the integration of the jet with the aircraft carrier at sea.”
The testing involves much more than just landing the jet aboard the ship and calling it a day. The test pilots had their work cut out for them, with multiple low-energy catapult shots and high crosswind landings on the ship as the test du jour to establish the baseline for the fleet aviators who will employ the 5th generation strike fighter for decades to come. The Navy plans to buy 260 F-35Cs to incorporate within the Carrier Strike Group and its embarked Air Wing.
Rear Admiral John R Haley describes, “the airplane is a great strike fighter, but it’s also a fantastic sensor. It’s also not out there on its own as a vacuum, sucking up all this information and keeping it to itself. The F-35 talks to the Rhino, to the Growler, to the destroyer, etc.. We’re going to have a mix of airplanes where each has their niche and the F-35 is going to bring the sensor capability and an ability to guide the fight, whether it be air to ground or in an air to air regime. It will dramatically change the way we do business… and we’re excited about what the future of the Carrier Air Wing looks like.”