On Oct. 3, the F-35B test aircraft BF-2, piloted by Marine Corps test pilot Lt. Col. Fred Schenk, performed the first at-sea vertical landing on USS Wasp’s (LHD 1) flight deck.
The first vertical landing marks the first step of the initial ship trials for the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) version of the JSF (Joint Strike Fighter), whose goal is to collect data about the aircraft capabilities to perform take-offs and landing on a ship and its degree of integration with the vessel. The trials are expected to last two weeks.
Here’s the video of the first vertical landing.
You will notice that the landing procedure is almost the same used by the USMC (and Italian or Spanish Navy) AV-8B Harriers even if the F-35 should be much easier to fly and land than the “Jump Jet” thanks also to some hi-tech sensors and, above all, to the futuristic pilot’s helmet-mounted display system (HMDS), that combines images coming from a set of cameras mounted on the jet’s outer surfaces providing a sort of X-ray vision.
This post’s title is defiant but, oddly, the video doesn’t let you hear the aircraft engine noise that has been one of the issue of the STOVL JSF. According to some studies the F-35B could be two to three times louder than another modern fighter jet raising noise concerns for those onboard ship, both above and below deck.
As many already know by now, the F-35B si the most costly version of the already costly F-35B. But it is also vital to the USMC (and to the other foreign services, like the Marina Militare) that needs it to replace both the Harrier and the F-18 Hornet. So vital that there’s no “Plan B” if the F-35B does not survive after the two-year probation period that then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates placed upon the variant when it encountered technical and noise problems and fell behind the testing schedule.
The USMC needs an aircraft that can be based everywhere and able to support Marine ground operation from a forward located amphibious assault ship, an aircraft that would double the number of aircraft carriers able to carry strike aircraft. However the service has also a plan to buy 80 Carrier variant models, to support the Navy’s carrier fleet, even if the F-35B will be also able to operate from a USN supercarrier.
Noteworthy, the USS Wasp, already involved in the at-sea trials of the V-22, was stationed on the US East Coast, at a short
helicopter ride from New York Harbor (along with the USS New York and the USS San Antonio) to provide relief and support after Hurricane Irene.
So, if the F-35C and (probably) B represent the future of the naval aviation, the F-18 both Legacy (C version) and Rhino/Super Hornet (E/F models) are the present. The following video provides a glimpse into today’s flying activities of a US Navy squadron (the VF-211) embarked on USS Enteprise.