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Will Embark F-35Bs for First Time

On 18 August HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH, the largest warship ever built for the Royal Navy (RN) left Portsmouth bound for the United States, where she will land F-35 LIGHTNING II aircraft on her deck for the first time.

Eight years since a British aircraft carrier last flew a fast jet from her decks, the 65,000t carrier will embark two F-35B test aircraft, from the Integrated Test Force (ITF), based at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD. Around 200 supporting staff, including pilots, engineers, maintainers and data analysts will be joined by two ‘orange wired’ test aircraft, belonging to the ITF, which are expected to conduct 500 take offs and landings during an 11-week period at sea.

The aim of these initial, or ‘developmental’ trials is to ascertain, through the specially equipped aircraft and sensors around the ship, the operating parameters of the aircraft and ship, in a range of conditions. Similar trials were successfully conducted by the carier at sea earlier this year for helicopters.

Four F 35B Lightning developmental test pilots, who are members of the ITF, will embark to fly the aircraft; three British, one American. The British personnel comprise one each from the RAF and RN and one civilian test pilot. They will be joined by a Major from the US Marine Corps. The trials follow the recent arrival in the UK of the first joint RN/RAF F-35B aircraft, based at RAF Marham. Operational testing, using British F-35Bs, is scheduled to take place on board HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH next year.

The deployment to America, known as WESTLANT 18, will be the first-time HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH will have sailed across the Atlantic. As well as the vital deck trials, it will also involve exercises to prove the ability to operate with other nations’ maritime and aviation assets, as well as the landing of Royal Marines and their equipment ashore to conduct training with their US counterparts.

As the ship’s work-up continues, so too does the regeneration of the UK’s Carrier Strike capability. Commander UK Carrier Strike Group (COMUKCSG), Cdre. Andrew Betton, will take command of the ship and other units of his task group, embarking in QUEEN ELIZABETH with his Carrier Strike Group headquarters staff. “As a critical step towards delivering the UK’s new Carrier Strike Group, this deployment demonstrates the astonishing collaborative effort that will enable the new F-35 jets to fly routinely from our QUEEN ELIZABETH-class aircraft carriers [….] At the heart of the Maritime Task Group, the aircraft carrier is well protected and sustained, ready to operate around the world as a potent and exceptionally flexible instrument of our foreign policy. These first F-35B embarked trials in a UK aircraft carrier are not only key to future operational success, but represent an iconic moment for the modern Royal Navy,” he stated

Prior to departing for the US later this month, the carrier will conduct trials in UK waters and will be joined by RFA TIDERACE and Plymouth-based type-23 frigate HMS MONMOUTH, as well as MERLIN Mk2 helicopters from 820 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Culdrose, Mk 4 MERLINs from 845 Naval Air Squadron, RNAS Yeovilton and a contingent of Royal Marines from 42 Commando, Plymouth.

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