Night carrier testing for the F-35C at the USS Nimitz in 2014 (Image © US Navy)

Zero bolters for F-35C during weeks of carrier tests

It’s been an interesting and crucial two weeks for the Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II, being the US Navy’s variant of the 5th generation fighter aircraft. On Monday 3 November, a succesful trap aboard USS Nimitz marked the beginning of two weeks of carrier trials.

Two F-35Cs from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-23 from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland were involved in the trials aboard USS Nimitz, as the carried sailed along the Californian coast. Over ten days into the tests, the aircraft completed 33 flights for a combined 39.2 flight hours, performed over 123 catapult launches from the carrier, 222 planned touch and goes, plus 124 ‘trap’ landings. Amazingly, there were zero bolters, meaning zero occasions where the aircraft’s tailhook missed one of the steel cables strechted over USS Nimitz’s deck, forcing a go around. 

Also, the first night carrier landings were carried out. The goal of the trials aboard USS Nimitz, the first of three at-sea test phases planned for the F-35C, is to collect environmental data through added instrumentation to measure the aircraft’s integration to flight deck operations and to further define the F-35C’s operating parameters.

By the sound of it, the trials worked out largely according to plan. Of course, catapult launches and trap landings were tested thoroughly before during evaluations on dry land. The other ‘naval’ variant of the F-35, the USMC’s F-35B, was tested at sea before.

A n assessment of how well the F-35C operated in the shipboard environment will advise the US Navy of any adjustments necessary to ensure that the aircraft, product of a 400 billion USD weapons program, is capable and ready to deploy to the fleet in 2018. By 2025, the Navy’s aircraft carrier-based air wings will consist of a mix of F-35C Lightning IIs, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers electronic attack aircraft, E-2D Hawkeye battle management and control aircraft, MH-60R/S helicopters and Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) logistics aircraft.

© 2014 editor Elmer van Hest

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Ready for a cat shot aboard USS Nimitz. (Image © US Navy)
Ready for a cat shot aboard USS Nimitz. (Image © US Navy)