RAF pilot performs first UK takeoff of F-35B Lightning at sea

Beginning in 2018, according to the current schedule, the F-35B, the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) version of the Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter, will operate from Royal Navy’s Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers.

Whereas pilots and ground crews are working alongside their U.S. Marine Corps counterparts at Eglin Air Force Base, in Florida, a UK pilot, Sqn Ldr Jim Schofield, performed the first UK takeoff of an F-35B at sea on USS Wasp.

As part of the testing campaign aimed at expanding the plane’s flight envelope, the F-35B conducted vertical night landings on USS Wasp off the Florida coast.

Noteworthy, the pilot explains how easy to fly is the STOVL JSF, compared to the legendary Harrier Jump Jet.


Enhanced by Zemanta
About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. Don’t the Brits’ existing carriers have the little mini ramp at the end? Will their F-35s use the ramp, or will the ramp be removed?

  2. Many have real issues with the single-engine F-35 operating from the decks of U.S. super-carriers. Can we really afford to lose one of these 100 million dollar (plus) aircraft over water if they experience an engine failure? What about the pilot? Would an enemy attempt to salvage (before us) a downed aircraft if it “splashes” close to their shores? What a loss of technology that would be! And one more thing…

    Today’s operating environment requires the carrier to stay far out to sea in order to protect itself from ever increasing threats (cruise missiles, diesel-electric submarines, etc.). So, the F-35 presumably will require aerial refueling in order to to complete it’s mission. Question … will the tankers refueling them be stealth refuelers? Seems to me if you find the aerial tanker, a LARGE radar target, you find (or can approximate the position of) the inbound F-35s. Sure they can come in from an off-set axis, but wouldn’t the refueler tend to give away the position of the “stealth” strike package, or at the very least the fact that an operation is underway? Food for thought.

    I don’t think the F-35 can carry so much external fuel so as to negate the need for aerial refueling, and any “bolted on” stealth external tanks will increase the aircraft’s radar cross-section (at least to some degree) and decrease it’s range/payload. I hope that all parties involved have really given thought to operating F-35s effectively in a “from the sea” [standoff] attack environment. Oh yes, yes … I’m sure they have. Certainly politics had nothing to do with the U.S. Navy’s decision to press forward with the decision to rely on the F-35 as it’s primary attack/air superiority fighter/bomber for today’s carriers and those of the future! Why do I get the feeling that this aircraft was NOT the U.S. Navy’s first choice for a multi-role stealth aircraft to engage in operations from the deck of a flattop? You’d think that what they really needed was a dual-engine aircraft. Am I too much of a skeptic? Maybe!

    • You raise some interesting points. AFAIK, the last tactical single-engined plane operated off of carriers was the A-7. They served for decades without an unacceptable loss rate so the single-engine issue likely isn’t a show-stopper. Sure, it’d be terrible to lose such an expensive plane (and possibly the pilot) due to an engine failure but those are the risks of carrier operations.

      The F-35 can carry external loads like fuel tanks but, as you point out, that increases the radar cross section. They could use the tanks to augment the range and jettison them before coming into an enemy’s radar detection range. The reported combat radius for the carrier-based F-35C is >600 NM (>450 NM for F-35B) on internal fuel only but I can’t find any info on what the range would be with external tanks. It might be enough to eliminate the need for tanker aircraft or perhaps they could use (and dispose) of external buddy-tanks to top off other F-35s. According to Lockheed-Martin (consider the source), the F-35C can carry up to 18,000 pounds of weapons. The internal weapon load is perhaps 5,000 pounds so you could carry a lot of external fuel tanks and drop them when empty. The F-35B numbers are 15,000 pounds total weapons load but only about 3,000 pounds internal.


      • Thanks for the input. Of note – enemy radar could be coming from a ship or airborne platform. I was thinking about operations in the South China Sea. If, God forbid, China and the U.S. had a scuffle there, I’d think that the carrier would have to operate East of the Philippines. I don’t think they’d want to take a chance operating in the SCS itself due to Chinese defensive capabilities. My thinking being F-35’s limited range and the carrier’s need to stand off at greater distances could make for very complex mission planning.

        Well, I’m sure that there are people with far greater knowledge than me of tactics and SOPs for F-35 employment in combat situations have or will give appropriate thought to the most effective way to employ this new weapon system when it is fully integrated into fleet operations. Overall, F-35 is coming, but I think the USN will order fewer of them due to cost and decide to have them work with greater numbers of F/A-18E/Fs (which they can buy more of and Boeing is upgrading) in a combined attack formation/plan of some sort in order to overcome any shortcomings of the aircraft and to better spend limited defense funds. The -35’s shortcoming in range, it’s very high cost, a single engine, and ever-increasing aircraft carrier standoff requirements is what would concern me. Let those at the think tanks, defense contractors and Pentagon planners figure out how they want to handle these very complex issues. Thanks again for the input!

  3. The small Invincible class carriers are gone. HMS Illustrious will hang around until the the new full size carriers are online, with choppers. As far as ski jump ramp, I believe they will have one now as the catapult is dropped in favor of the vertical take off F-35 version with the ramp. I may be wrong though, the whole process is a case of government backtracking and is a mess. Why we are buying the F35 I dont know. Its a Joke.

  4. Reading comments by “Armchair Experts” makes my day – thank you for bringing me my daily smile

    It’s great to see how those who have no responsibility or accountability can magically make no mistakes or errors, and solve completely those problems that those who do have put their heads on the block can only manage compromise solutions to.

    One thought…

    How many engines does a Sea Harrier have?

    And need I point that the F-35 is not vertical take-off but STOVL – as was the Harrier when operating and loaded with ordnance, and not flying empty at air show demos.

    But Armchair Experts know all that, so I needn’t point it out.

    • Armchair?


      There are valid arguments against mass procurement of F-35s. There is a role for the stealth fighter/bomber no doubt, but I think the USN needs to buy fewer of them and integrate more less expensive aircraft into the mix of planes operating on the flight deck of U.S. carriers. Aircraft along with up-and-coming drones.

      Three updated F/A-18E/F Advanced Super Hornets for every one F-35. A procurement decision that has got to be seriously looked at. There is no money left to spend on all of these wiz-bang high-cost programs. The U.S. will soon have a national debt of 20 trillion dollars at a time when Social Security and Medicare costs are about to put even greater strains on the national budget. Where’s the money going to come from to finance another super high-cost aircraft procurement program such as F-35?

      Also, the USN need submarines, surface combatants, support ships, maintenance funds, operating funds, etc., etc. Where are they going to find the money? Cost control / cost cutting is here to stay!

      BTW – Harrier may work well for the British Navy and it’s small a/c carriers, but with all due respect they could never fulfill current aircraft requirements of the United States Navy. Marines maybe, but not the Navy.

      You cannot compare U.S. carrier air power with that of Britain. Harrier would not last a second against modern Russian or Chinese fighters, nor could the current class of small British aircraft carriers perform the missions demanded of U.S. super-carriers. In other words, because of where they have to go and fight, the U.S. must have aircraft with far greater [carrier] power projection/air superiority capabilities than small UK mini-carriers currently need.

      While Britain is still a formidable regional sea power, they are no longer anywhere near as capable as the USN. Nor will they be when they put to sea their new class of Queen Elizabeth aircraft carriers. At best, Britain will always supplement the USN in distant operations, but never be able to operate alone in future potential actions against countries like Iran, North Korea, China or even perhaps a re-emerging (aggressive) Russia.

      F-35 was a program that, like F-111, was political in nature and shoved down the US Navy’s throat. Questioning it’s wisdom is by no means “armchair”. Trust me – Congress will be doing just that as sequestration is continued in the form of decreases in the U.S. defense budget for many years to come!

      • Of course, I should have said ; “BTW – Harrier MAY HAVE work well for the British Navy… “. Obviously with the Harrier now retired, Britain only flies helos off of it’s remaining carrier.

        • We may have disagreed about the F-14, but I think your opinions about the F-35 are spot on.

          • Fliers or people who just like aviation love to have these “best plane” arguments. It goes with the territory. Just listen to a group of WW-II fighter jocks from different countries talk about their planes! … those that are still around.

            I may be an American, but I’d still take the FW-190 Dora-9 over any WW-II fighter plane. Now I ask … what would happen to me if I went into an English pub and started an argument like that??? :)

Comments are closed.