We have been aboard USS George Washington during F-35C’s latest carrier trials

Aug 22 2016 - 23 Comments
By Todd Miller

Report: F-35Cs Descend in Mass on the USS George Washington During DT-III.

The USS George Washington (CVN-73) is hosting the F-35C in its final Developmental Testing cycle, DT-III through Aug. 23.

However, for a couple of days the two VX-23 “Salty Dogs” F-35C Lightning IIs from NAS Patuxent River were joined by 5 F-35Cs from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” out of Eglin AFB. The 7 F-35Cs on the deck of the carrier represented the largest carrier contingent of F-35Cs to date.

F-35C from VFA-101 "Grim Reapers" performs a touch and go on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016 VX-23 "Salty Dogs" F-35C in foreground aside another VFA-101 F-35C.

F-35C from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” performs a touch and go on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016 VX-23 “Salty Dogs” F-35C in foreground aside another VFA-101 F-35C.

Media were hosted on the USS George Washington Monday, Aug. 15 to witness the pilots completing their carrier qualifications (CQs) at the onset of DT-III. All pilots embarking must perform a number of “cats” and “traps” prior to executing the specific tests involved with DT-III.

F-35C from VFA-101 "Grim Reapers" dropping from deck and into the hangar for engine change. The aircraft is 100%, just an exercise to see if anything unusual crops up. On the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016.

F-35C from VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” dropping from deck and into the hangar for engine change. The aircraft is 100%, just an exercise to see if anything unusual crops up. On the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016.

DT-III includes validation of the aircraft’s flying capabilities with full internal and external stores (up to 4 GBU-12s and two AIM-9X on external hard points); handling tests with asymmetrical loads; testing for maximum weight launches (up to 65,000 lbs) at minimum power; evaluating all of these in a variety of wind and sea states.

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers getting ready to snag a 3 wire on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers getting ready to snag a 3 wire on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

As explained by Tom “Briggo” Briggs ITF (Integrated Test Force) Chief Test Engineer there were some additional aspects they wanted to evaluate. These areas to assess included shipborne evaluation of tweaks made to control laws (based on previous DT testing), shipborne logistical support and some night launches to verify adjustments made to the Gen 3 helmet performed as desired.

The ITF (Integrated Task Force) and supporting team of personnel have worked tirelessly to bring the program to this point, and yet the reality of DT-III was – “business as usual.”

Media probed for human interest stories from the cadre of pilots on board, “What was it like, after all the simulator hours and practice landings at the airfield to actually land on the ship?” From pilots who had 50 traps with the F-35C to those who had just realized their first – they struggled to provide any other answer; “no drama, no surprise, performed as expected, very vanilla, pretty easy.”

F-35C from VX-23 "Salty Dogs" arrested landing, during DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) August 15, 2016.

F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” arrested landing, during DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) August 15, 2016.

The preparation had been solid and thorough and DT-III itself was simply moving according to plan – that is if you can plan to be ahead of schedule after only 1.5 days!

F-35C from VX-23 "Salty Dogs" crosses the deck after fueling, on the way to the catapults. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” crosses the deck after fueling, on the way to the catapults. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

In many ways DT-III was “upstaged” by the appearance of VFA-101, and yet it was upstaged in a fashion that brought ultimate satisfaction to the ITF’s efforts.

As U.S. Navy Commander Ryan “Flopper” Murphy, F-35 ITF lead said, “the greatest satisfaction was to watch the fleet (VFA-101) start to utilize the aircraft.” After all, that was the point of all the years of work; to equip and empower the Fleet with the F-35C.

160814-N-XW558-090 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) Lt. William Bowen taxis in an F-35C Lightning II carrier variant, assigned to the Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VX-23 is conducting its third and final development test (DT-III) phase aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex L. Smedegard)

160814-N-XW558-090
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) Lt. William Bowen taxis in an F-35C Lightning II carrier variant, assigned to the Salty Dogs of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23, on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VX-23 is conducting its third and final development test (DT-III) phase aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alex L. Smedegard)

12 VFA-101 pilots with 5 F-35Cs completed their CQs in just over 1.5 days. As Capt. James Christie of VFA-101 described, that includes 10 landings and 2 touch and gos each. A total of 120 cats, 120 traps and 24 touch and goes. Simultaneously the 5 VX-23 pilots performed their CQs. F-35Cs were all over the carriers deck, moving, landing, and launching – much like I would imagine an operational tempo.

F-35C from VX-23 "Salty Dogs" waits to cross the deck for fueling. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” waits to cross the deck for fueling. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

There were instances of hot refueling, with pilot changes during refuel and the aircraft cycling back for more CQs.

As VX-23 F-35C pilot Ted “Dutch” Dyckman explained, everybody completed their CQs faster than with the Hornet or Super Hornet. The additional fuel on the F-35C, the ease of landing due to Delta Flight Path mode, along with aircraft reliability all played a part in the accelerated CQs.

The innovative “Delta Flight Path” mode that is engaged on approach alters the F-35C control laws, setting auto throttles and maintaining the optimal 3 degree glide slope to landing. This approach makes landing on the carrier much easier, and pilots were hitting the desired 3 wire virtually 100% of the time.

160814-N-MY901-131 ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant assigned to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy’s F-35C Fleet replacement squadron, lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VFA-101 aircraft and pilots are conducting initial qualifications aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Krystofer Belknap)

160814-N-MY901-131
ATLANTIC OCEAN (Aug. 14, 2016) An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant assigned to the Grim Reapers of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 101, the Navy’s F-35C Fleet replacement squadron, lands on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73). VFA-101 aircraft and pilots are conducting initial qualifications aboard George Washington in the Atlantic Ocean. The F-35C is expected to be Fleet operational in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Krystofer Belknap)

Delta Flight Path utilizes the flaps to add or decrease lift during approach to maintain the glide slope. Observers can see a tremendous amount of flap movement during the aircrafts approach to the deck.

These movements are all controlled by the computer to provide the pilot what they want – stable glideslope to the deck. The F/A-18E/F and EA-18G control laws are being modified to feature the same Delta Flight path in an initiative called “Magic Carpet.”

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers crosses the deck for fueling on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers crosses the deck for fueling on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

As Briggs explained, DT-III is to prepare the aircraft launch and recovery bulletins (ALB/ARB). These are the operating guides the Navy will utilize to determine the appropriate launch and recovery parameters for the aircraft, given weights and conditions. These bulletins are required for operations, and ensure the aircraft can safely launch and recover with the desired loads to complete assigned missions.

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers landing on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

F-35C from VFA-101 Grim Reapers landing on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) during DT-III with VX-23 August 15, 2016

Recently appointed to the new position, Director of Joint Strike Fighter Fleet Integration, Rear Admiral Roy “Trigger” Kelley was also aboard the USS George Washington. Kelley will be directing the F-35C program towards IOC between August 2018 and Feb 2019. Kelley is excited about the capabilities the F-35C will bring to the Fleet; first day access into contested areas that host sophisticated integrated air defense systems; the ability to utilize stealth and sensors to define the battlespace combined with advanced command and control capabilities that will empower the entire fleet.

DT-III is a significant milestone, and it is clear the F-35C is now tracking very quickly and methodically to a IOC with the U.S. Navy.

F-35C from VX-23 "Salty Dogs" executes a last second wave-off with F-35Cs from VX-23 and VFA-101 "Grim Reapers" in background. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

F-35C from VX-23 “Salty Dogs” executes a last second wave-off with F-35Cs from VX-23 and VFA-101 “Grim Reapers” in background. During DT-III on the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Monday, August 15.

The Aviationist would like to thank the following for their support: Sylvia Pierson, F-35 ITF/JPO PA; CDR Dave Hecht, Naval Air Force Atlantic PAO; Capt. Timothy Kuehhas, CO USS George Washington; and the many supporting PAOs on and off shore, pilots, engineers, and C-2 Greyhound crews. The entire US Navy team were professional, gracious hosts.

Image credit: U.S. Navy and Todd Miller

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  • leroy

    The most potent fighter and strike aircraft ever to hit a carrier’s flight deck. With F-35C, the U.S. Navy is finally entering into the age of modern stealth air warfare. Given today’s Chinese and Russian threats, it can’t come soon enough.

    As for 4th gen aircraft like Gripen, Typhoon, F/A-18, Mig, Sukhoi … they may as well all be wooden ships in the age of the iron-clad. They are now obsolete. This is the age of F-35, and there is no going back from here. If you go up against 5th gen in a 4th gen ride, you are without doubt gonna be dead. This is a bigger jump than the 1930’s mono-wing was over the biplane!

    • Stephen

      Little more over the top than I usually play it, but you’re not wrong about any of it. Any 4th Gen aircraft going head to head with an F-35 is going to get junked.

      And before someone mentions F-16s, yes in a contest between fully completed aircraft the F-16 would fall before the F-35. Possibly more than one.

    • Jimmy_Doolittle

      So true. Few people get it, even now. I was in the middle of all the pain trying to get a Stealthy jet on the Carrier deck for the US NAVY. F-117N, A-X, A-12, F-22N, A/F-X, and now finally, F-35C. We’ve made the really difficult design challenge look obvious, now that we are there.

  • leroy

    Note the clean burn of the PW F135. Not a single sign of smoke streaming from the engine. Try saying that about any MiG, Sukhoi, Shenyang or Chengdu. By comparison the Russian and Chinese engines are wood-burning junk!

    • kushil

      was going to comment on the same. that is preety impressive.

    • disqus_STXkrV9NGc

      Sure, but most Russian and Chinese fighters are Cold War era.

    • Maximus

      Yes because it’s maximal speed is mach 1.4, russian and chineese junks can reach easely mach 2.0

      • leroy

        Not topped off with fuel and a full bomb load hanging under their wings they can’t!

      • leroy

        BTW, F-35’s max speed is 1.6M. And that’s with a full bag of gas and max load of internal weapons.

      • Frederick Murre

        Get it through your head, as long as you’re not in an SR-71 outrunning SAMs –

        No one cares about top mach above 1. They care about how long they can maintain 1.1, or if they can do it with an A2A load. Which in nearly all cases, hardly any fighter can stay above 1, for more than 10 minutes on internal, with any realistic mission profile, that has them doing something other than a subsonic crawl back to base, or a waiting tanker.

        The mach limit on modern jet fighters isn’t about what the engines can put out either. Sustained mach starts heating up airframe parts, and the engine inlet temperature rises from all the air getting rammed down it and building up increased pressure. The fan stages and first compressor stages in a high output turbofan weren’t meant to handle that extra friction. They’ll run, but you’ll be behind max efficiency, and just sucking up the fuel to keep the RPMs up in addition to what is going into the after burner. Old fashioned 50s-60s turbojets generally are happy here though.

        But mostly the composite materials, fiberglass/graphite/epoxy stuff dosen’t like the heat, stealth coatings don’t like it, radomes don’t like it, antennae don’t like it, paint dosen’t like it and cockpit canopies will start to heat up and then char at high mach. Ie things, that are resistant to thermal conduction tend to do badly.

        No matter whose nationality there are simple physics.

        A real sustained Mach 2+ aircraft looks like the SR-71. Crazy and weird, but the design is all about dumping friction heat into the voluminous fuel reserve. The recon-snouted Mig-25s qualify as well, with heavy stainless steel structure, although their engines were very susceptible to inlet and compressor overtemp, and the fuel reserve was low.

    • Cody3/75

      It appears as though it doesn’t need full reheat to get off the deck? Never seen an aircraft get launched without afterburners.

      • Frederick Murre

        What, never seen an A-7 or E/A-6 ride the cat?
        In all seriousness when not flying a warload, just for CQ ops, there is plenty of power in military setting for the -35 to get around.

  • Ex Tempore

    …some say that the Saab Gripen E, is an equal to the F-35, but cheaper to operate, to maintain, no air conditioned hangars, can take off from bombed out runways, has 10 minute turnaround time, is perfect for Arctic winters, has the same engine as the F-18 Hornet, can operate Nato and Warsaw Pact weapons, cheaper to purchase, etc,..!….also, Boeing/Saab have a T-X jet trainer for the US Air force!…..what to think?

    • sferrin

      “…some say that the Saab Gripen E, is an equal to the F-35”

      Not anybody who actually knows anything.

    • leroy

      Equal to F-35? Only in the fact that they both have a jet engine. Thankfully Gripen will never have to fight F-35 because if it did the Saab fighter would die. And I’m not so sure Gripen can deal with an Su-35 much less the T-50. F-35? It will clean both those Russian fighter’s clocks!

  • David James

    Watching the huge control surfaces in action is really cool (@2:14)

    Great pics too I <3 the look of the C model .

  • hiddensphinx

    Wonder how long before Chinese copy it from all the hacked data from F35 manufacturer!

  • tosi21

    It’s been very quiet here since F-35 is shown to be a superior plane. Where are the doomsayers and bashers now?

  • Eric McCann

    *nitpick* It’s “En Masse.”

  • veej7485

    cant they tweak the gear by reducing how much it can “bounce”?