In Depth

Where the Sky Meets the Sea: F-35B Ski Jump Testing

August 22, 2017

When the United Kingdom looks to the future of its carrier strike capability, it sees the F-35B, the world’s first supersonic short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft. From the sky to the sea, the F-35B, met with the power of HMS Queen Elizabeth, will deliver an uncompromising carrier strike capability to the Royal Navy. As the center piece of the UK’s military capability, the dynamic duo will be versatile enough to execute multiple missions anywhere at any time. But before the world will ever know how far the F-35B will go, it must first complete a series of tests and demonstrations.

The Journey to the Sea

As the Queen Elizabeth sailed into her proud new home at the Portsmouth Naval Yard, the F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF) was hard at work expanding the aircraft’s flight envelope. For the team at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Maryland, preparing the F-35B for sea is one of the ITF’s top priorities. F-35B test pilot Peter “Wizzer” Wilson, is project lead and also flying the test sorties to ensure the aircraft is ready for operation.

“F-35B testing continues to be a great success. I’m exceptionally proud of this team and I can’t wait until we’re conducting F-35 ski jumps from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth carrier. The ITF’s years of planning and training have culminated in a fantastic achievement that advances the future capabilities of the aircraft and its integration into UK operations.”

During the second phase of ski jump testing the team is evaluating ski lift launches at different speeds and under various conditions. The goal is to expand the acceptable wind envelopes and maximum gross weight capability, including the carriage of external stores. The team is testing symmetric and asymmetric loadouts while carrying external GBU-12, Paveway IV bombs, AIM-9X and AIM-132 missiles. This unique capability will enable the fleet to carry heavy store configurations in a wider range of weather conditions while operating on board the Queen Elizabeth Class Carriers. Expanding the envelope of this very important capability is vital for the Royal Navy who utilize the ski jump for daily shipboard operations.

The UK’s Royal Navy has used sloped-deck ski jump ramps for carrier operations for decades. In this configuration the F-35 can change the direction of its thrusters, allowing it to execute short takeoffs. Curved at its leading edge, a ski-jump ramp simultaneously launches aircraft upward and forward, allowing aircraft to take off with more weight and less end-speed. The F-35B, which has a lift fan mounted behind the cockpit, combined with the rotating nozzle, enables the jet to complete short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) operations.

The Future of the UK's Naval Force

The F-35B and Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers will lead the UK’s naval force with pride for the next 50 years. Together the two assets will sail the seas, maintaining security for the UK and allied nations, increasing the UK’s ability to project maritime and air power while responding to UK and partner nation needs, around the world. F-35B jets are due to make their first trial flights from the carrier's deck next year and are expected to reach full operational capability by 2020.