This week, for the first time in eight years, an aircraft landed on a British aircraft carrier.
The plane was an F-35B, the Marine Corps’ variant of the Joint Strike Fighter that is capable of vertical take offs and landings, and the ship was the HMS Queen Elizabeth, the UK’s largest warship.
Neither is entirely new – the UK got its first F-35 six years ago, and the carrier took to sea in 2017 – but bringing them together has been touted as a new era for British military power.
“The largest warship in British history is joining forces with the most advanced fighter jets on the planet. This marks a rebirth of our power to strike decisively from the seas anywhere in the world,” British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in a release. “It is also a statement of Britain’s determination to promote peace and prevent war.”
Below, you can see the two F-35s working in tandem with crews on the Queen Elizabeth.
The first landings took place on September 25. The Queen Elizabeth is able to hold up to 24 of the jets, and more than 1,400 sailors, flight crew members, and Marines have been working aboard the carrier during this deployment.
The F-35’s first landing ever on a British carrier is “a tremendous step forward in reestablishing the UK’s carrier strike capability,” said Commodore Andrew Betton, commander of the UK carrier strike group.
The Queen Elizabeth left Portsmouth in August, heading to the Atlantic, where the trials are taking place. Royal navy Cmdr. Nathan Grey became the first British pilot to land an F-35 on the carrier, followed by Royal air force squadron leader Andy Edgell. Afterward, Grey became the first pilot to take off on the ship’s ski-ramp.
The F-35 landing and take off were “just Day One of a two-month, arduous testing process, which will continue again next year,” Betton said. “The objective over the next two months is to establish the operating envelop for the F-35 to operate from HMS Queen Elizabeth and then build up our war-fighting capability.”
The landing itself was the first one in eight years, but the operation is the latest step in a process that began 20 years ago, when the UK announced plans to replace the Harrier jet and upgrade carrier capabilities, said Vice Adm. Ben Key, the Royal navy fleet commander.
“On one level, it’s just a pilot landing a jet on a ship, and in the fleet arm we’ve been doing that for over a hundred years, but on another level, just what it represents, it’s the next chapter of a long journey,” Key said. “There’s a lot of emotion coursing through veins at the moment, but all of it is phenomenally positive.”
The British navy developed HMS Argus – the first flush-deck carrier in naval history – during World War II to launch torpedo bombers.
But it wasn’t launched until December 1917 and was commissioned in September 1918, which was only a few weeks before the war ended in November that year.
The F-35 has been plagued by technical problems and cost overruns. The Queen Elizabeth, which was specially built for F-35B operations, has also been the subject of derision over its lack of an air wing — including jokes that the British navy had built an aircraft carrier with no aircraft.
Source: The Economist
“It’s a brilliant day,” said Air Marshall Stuart Atha, deputy commander of operations for the British air force. “The combination of the ship and the aircraft, the potency of this is something that is way beyond the individual services.”
“For the next few weeks we’re concentrating on developmental tests as the pilots really begin to explore [and] develop the flight envelop for the jets operating from the ship and [as] the ship learns what’s require to operate the jets,” said Key, the Royal navy fleet commander.
2019 will see continued testing to make sure the capabilities of the ship and its jets are “in the right place,” Key said. “That allows us then in 2020 to bring it together and develop an operational package, which the government can then deploy in 2021.”
British pilots have performed landings and takeoffs on US carriers over the past eight years in order to stay proficient. Grey and Edgell carried out training on the F-35 with US airmen and contractors in the US earlier this year.
“Everything about this project is collaborative [and] interoperable,” said Betton, the strike group commander. “Whether it’s been the training of people to man and equip the ships or the training of the crews on the deck and specifically the pilots, getting ready for today is all about cooperation.”
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