Three Variants, Common Capability
The primary difference between the F-35 variants is their basing requirements. As a result, the F-35B and F-35C variants have unique ways to takeoff and land.
The F-35 family includes the F-35A conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) variant, the F-35B short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) variant, and the F-35C carrier variant (CV). The variation between models allows military forces to achieve service-specific mission capability, while still taking advantage the economies of scale that result from the parts and processes that are common to all three variants. The CTOL, STOVL and CV all have the advanced avionics required to execute multirole missions and the support of the F-35 sustainment technologies.
The CTOL variant will be the most prevalent variant of the F-35. The U.S. Air Force as well as the majority international air forces will fly the F-35A. With conventional takeoff and landing capability, the A-variant is built for traditional air force bases. It uses the boom method of aerial refueling and is the only variant to have an internal cannon.
F-35A aircraft have been delivered to three U.S. Air Force Bases where they are being flown for System Development and Demonstration test, operational test and training missions. The first Dutch F-35 aircraft have also been delivered to Eglin Air Force Base for integrated training.
Designed to operate from austere bases and a range of air-capable ships with its short takeoff/vertical landing capability, the F-35B can also takeoff and land conventionally from longer runways on major bases. F-35B aircraft have been delivered to the U.S. Marines and the U.K., whose forces are training together at the Integrated Training Center at Eglin Air Force Base. STOVL aircraft are also stationed at the first operational F-35 base, Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., and are completing flight test at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The Italian Air Force will also operate the B-variant.
The F-35B has a Lift Fan just behind the cockpit and an engine that can swivel 90 degrees when in short takeoff/vertical landing mode. Because of the Lift Fan, the STOVL variant has smaller internal weapon bay and less internal fuel capacity than the F-35A. It uses the probe and drogue method of aerial refueling.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps' carrier variant has larger wings and more robust landing gear than the other variants, making it suitable for catapult launches and fly-in arrestments aboard naval aircraft carriers. Its wingtips fold to allow for more room on the deck on the carriers while deployed. The CV has the greatest internal fuel capacity of the F-35 variants, and, like the F-35B, the C-variant uses probe and drogue refueling.
F-35Cs are stationed at NAS Patuxent River for testing and Eglin AFB for training.