US Navy F-35C CF01 first in-flight refueling (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Lightning II heading for USS Nimitz

US Navy F-35C CF01 first in-flight refueling (Image © Lockheed Martin)
The US Navy F-35C is meeting USS Nimitz today. (Image © Lockheed Martin)

Monday 3 November 2014 is supposed to be a big day for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, as two F-35Cs are flying out today to the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to start the very first live carrier trials using the aircrafts’ arrestor hook and carrier’s catapult system. The trials are planned to last two weeks.

Update 3 November 23.15 hrs CET: First of two F-35Cs is reported to have successfully landed on board USS Nimitz, using the Dutch made arrestor hook. Pictures to follow.

The F-35C is the US Navy variant of the new, 5th generation combat plane. It features the tailhook, but also bigger wings to allow for better lift and slow speed handling, essential for carrier operations. The two F-35C will meet USS Nimitz somewhere off the coast of San Diego, California.

The F-35C tailhook system has been tested in dry runs on land. Also, catapult launches have been performed on land as well. Nevertheless, the live carrier trials are said to be another milestone in the 400 billion USD weapons program. The program suffered a set back last summer, when an F-35A was extensively damaged following an engine fire. The ensuing grounding prevent the Lightning II to show up at its own international airshow debut, causing a major PR nightmare.

The fault that caused the fire is said to have been identified within the Pratt & Whitney F-135 engine that powers the F-35. A rubber-like sealing material reportedly got much hotter than it was designed. Pratt & Whitney is working on a solution.

Despite the carrier trials, the US Navy is relatively slow to adopt the F-35, recently naming Naval Air Station Lemoore, California, as its future base. The first squadron should be operational in 2018, whereas the US Marines Corps aims for July 2015. The US Air Force is planning for August 2016.

© 2014 editor Elmer van Hest