A BAE Systems led test team has welcomed the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35 Lightning II (also known as the Joint Strike Fighter) to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, for flight testing.
The first F-35B aircraft, designated BF-1, arrived at Patuxent River on 15 November. The Integrated Test Force team at the station will now begin a carefully planned programme of flights that will see the aircraft begin steeper and slower descents before achieving the first true vertical landing by the F-35.
Mick Ord, BAE Systems F-35 Managing Director said: “BAE Systems brings key capabilities to the F-35 programme. These include a unique heritage in short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft gained through the design and development of the Harrier aircraft in the 1960s and early 1970s, which makes us ideally placed to lead these trials. Derivatives of the original Harrier are now flown by the U.K., India, Spain, Italy and the US Marine Corps. The Joint Strike Fighter continues to build on the short takeoff/vertical landing experience, and it’s great to be able to apply our expertise on this tremendous aircraft.”
The move to Patuxent River follows a series of successful hover pit trials conducted at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth plant, which demonstrated the STOVL capability of the aircraft. During these trials, BF-1 was anchored on top of a BAE Systems-designed metal grid about 15 feet off the floor of the pit enabling the aircraft to simulate free-air flight.
These tests measured the output of the aircraft’s STOVL propulsion system and demonstrated that the F-35B exceeded the vertical thrust required to carry out its missions. The tests conducted also validated the performance of aircraft software, controls, thermal management, STOVL-system hardware and many other systems.
A key enabler to the move to Patuxent River has been the completion of aerial refueling tests that have cleared the F-35B for extended-range flights. These flights, conducted by the second STOVL variant aircraft, BF-2, demonstrated the aircraft’s ability to refuel in flight using the probe-and-drogue approach favoured by the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.
Whilst at Patuxent River the F-35B will also replicate operations aboard “ski jump” aircraft carriers, such as those operated by the Royal Navy using a specially designed ramp.
In March 2009, the U.K. Ministry of Defence announced its intention to order three instrumented STOVL F-35 Lightning II test aircraft and associated support equipment for Operational Test and Evaluation purposes.