Category Archives: F-35

Dutch F-35A With Special Tail Markings Unveiled At Edwards AFB

The 323 TES (Test and Evaluation Squadron) “Diana” celebrates its 70th anniversary with F-35 F-002 in special tail markings at Edwards Air Force Base, California.

“Three two three”, Royal Netherlands Air Force’s first F-35 squadron, operates two Lightning II aircraft, examples AN-1 (F-001) and AN-2 (F-002), at Edwards AFB, California. The Squadron, is responsible for the Operational Test and Evaluation Phase (OT&E) as part of the Joint Operational Test Team, which lays the foundation for the RNLAF’s commissioning of the F-35.

On Nov. 15, 2018, the squadron, that was established in 1948 and has changed designation (including Fighter Weapons School, Tactical Training, Evaluation and Standardization Squadron, etc.) several times through the years, celebrated its 70th anniversary, an achievement commemorated by applying special markings to the tail of one of the two Dutch F-35s: aircraft F-002 was given a Diana “Godness of the Hunt” (symbol of the squadron) artwork along with the silhouettes of all the aircraft that the unit has flown in the last seven decades and the text “70 years”.

The artwork was created by artist Christy Tortland.

It looks like the markings are applied on panels attached to the rudder and fin; however, according to the artist, this was just for the photo shoot as the aircraft should be painted later.

The special tail on AN-2 (F-002) with the silhouettes of all the 323 TES (previously Sqn) aircraft in the making. It looks like the markings are applied on panels, making them removable.

The first eight F-35A are being assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth facility in the U.S. with the two F-35s already used for testing at Edwards AFB, California, and the rest heading to Luke Air Force Base for pilot training beginning in January 2019.

AN-9, the ninth of the Netherlands’ 37 F-35A CTOL (Conventional Take Off and Landing) stealth jets on order, will be build at Cameri FACO, in Italy and will be the first F-35 to be delivered in the Netherlands: the aircraft is expected to roll off the production line in February 2019. It will undertake test and acceptance flights in Italy before moving to Leeuwarden in October 2019. It will be taken on charge by the first operational squadron based in the Netherlands, 322 (RF) Squadron.



This is not the first time an F-35A is given a special tail: in June 2017, Italian Air Force F-35A belonging to the 13th Gruppo (Squadron) sported celebratory 100th anniversary markings on the left tail.

Group shot at Edwards AFB.

Image credit: 323TES and Christy Tortland

Check Out This Video Of U.S. Marine F-35B Jets Refueling Over the Middle East.

A Look Back at the F-35Bs deployed to the Middle East on the 243rd Birthday of the USMC.

Today is the 243rd Anniversary of the United States Marine Corps. The Marines were born on November 10, 1775 as an elite maritime-capable combat force by the Second Continental Congress with the decree:

“That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of privates as with other battalions, that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies; unless dismissed by Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of Marines.”

In observance of this anniversary it’s worth watching this video of USMC F-35B Lightning IIs refueling from a U.S. Air Force KC-135 somewhere over the Middle East during the first U.S. combat deployment of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. We have already published shots taken during that very same sortie, highlighting the presence of the gun pod under the fuselage.


The video of the USMC F-35Bs was shot by USAF Staff Sgt. Rion Ehrman of the U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs on September 15, 2018.

Shooting video from a KC-135 Stratotanker of the 28th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, the USMC F-35Bs of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit take on fuel somewhere over the Middle East using the drogue system on the KC-135 boom.

Because of the position of the lift-fan on the F-35B Lightning II STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant the aircraft does not have the refueling receptacle on top of the fuselage as with the F-35A, so the Marines use the hose and drogue method. You can see in the video that sometimes it gets tricky staying on the drogue as an F-35B bobs up and down taking on fuel. Another F-35B is seen on the drogue with a significant amount of fuel vapor streaming into the air just above the right intake.

The USMC deployment was the first time the U.S. deployed F-35Bs to the Middle East as part of Essex Amphibious Ready Group or ARG. The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) is also the first combat-deployed MEU to operate the F-35B Lighting II. This is also the first-ever combat deployment of a supersonic STOVL aircraft in aviation history since the Israelis, who debuted the F-35A in combat in the Middle East, fly a conventional take-off and landing variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

On Sept. 27, 2018 U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters hit insurgent targets in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province. The mission, flown by an undisclosed number of aircraft from USS Essex but, interestingly, at least two aircraft, modex CF-00 and CF-01, made a stopover in Kandahar Air Field after the air strike before returning to the aircraft carrier.

Two U.S. Marine Corps F-35B taxi to the runway at KAF the morning after conducting the first air strike in Afghanistan.

The aircraft carried the external gun pod along with the two upper Luneburg lenses/radar reflectors.

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I have made an interesting and geeky discovery today analyzing the shots of the USMC F-35B deployed for the first time near the Horn of Africa (article at TheAviationist.com). Therefore, during normal peacetime activities, the F-35B uses radar reflectors (unless it has to remain stealthy – during the first days of a war): 3 reflectors (2 in the upper rear fuselage, 1 centerline in the lower rear fuselage – the one underneath the fuselage can be seen in the bottom image) as opposed to the F-35A (middle photo) that wears 4 ones (2 upper side and 2 lower side). However, when it carries the external GAU-22 gun pod, the F-35B carries only 2 upper side radar reflectors (you can only see one of these in the top image): most probably the external pod degrades the RCS so much no additional reflector is needed. #theaviationist #f35 #f35b #stealth #radarreflector

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On Sept. 28, a U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter crashed near Beaufort Marine Corps Air Station, South Carolina on the U.S. East Coast. The pilot ejected from the aircraft. The incident led to a temporary stand down of the worldwide fleet, on Oct. 12, 2018 for safety inspections of their fuel flow systems.

Belgium Reportedly Chooses F-35 Stealth Jets over Eurofighter Typhoons To Replace Its Aging F-16s

According to several media outlets, the Belgian Air Force has picked the Lockheed Martin F-35.

Belgium may become the 12th country to join the F-35 program. Citing Government sources, Belga news agency reported on Oct. 22, 2018 that a decision has been made to pick the U.S. 5th generation stealth aircraft over the European Typhoon to replace its fleet of 54 F-16s, whose phase-out is expected between 2023 and 2028.

A defense ministry spokeswoman declined to comment on the government’s decision, Reuters reported.

Belgium has been deliberating for years over the purchase of new aircraft: the order for jets, estimated to be worth 3.6 billion Euro (4.14B USD), had been expected ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels in July. The initial bid expired on Oct. 14, 2018 but on Belgian request the deadline was postponed to Oct. 29, as the government did not want to make any decisions in the run-up to the municipal elections.

Now, it looks like the decision has eventually been made, although not formally.



With the F-35 the Belgian Air Force would become the fourth European operator to replace its F-16s with the Lightning II: the other ones are the Netherlands, Norway and Denmark. Moreover, if confirmed, the win would be a great boost to Lockheed Martin’s commercial efforts in Europe and a setback for the Britain-led Eurofighter lobby. The F-35 has long been considered the top candidate: according to the Belgian newspaper DeMorgen it turned out that the F-35 was the better choice both technically and in terms of price, compared to the Eurofighter. One of the requirements considered to be pushing more on the American aircraft side is the F-35’s ability to drop B-61 nuclear bombs: the Lightning II is the only competitor able to deploy freefall nuke bombs. If the Belgians wanted to keep their ability to deliver U.S. nuclear bombs, stored at Kleine Brogel, the Lockheed Martin’s LO (Low Observable) F-35 was the only viable option.

Actually, earlier this month, the Belgian media outlet Knack published a report, based on internal Belgian MoD leaked documents, according to which the Belgian Air Force allegedly manipulated the fighter competition so that the F-35 would be the only winner. The allegations have been strongly denied by the Belgian authorities but some doubts (for instance those surrounding the actual pricing) have yet to be clarified.

Meanwhile, Belgians had their first look at an F-35A Lightning II on Sept. 8-9, when an Italian Air Force F-35 made its European airshow debut and was one of the highlights fo the Belgian Air Force Days at Kleine Brogel.

 

 

UK F-35B Performs World’s First Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing During HMS Queen Elizabeth Trials

The F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) achieved a new milestone performing a Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) on aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

On Oct. 13, an F-35B STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter performed the first  Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth, as part of the ongoing First of Class Flight Trials (Fixed Wing), or FOCFT (FW). BAE Systems test pilot Pete “wizzer” Wilson, achieved the F-35B’s first real SRVL touching down at about 40 knots and decelerating to a standstill in about 175 feet.

Britain’s newest aircraft carrier (able to accommodate up to 24 F-35Bs out of the planned 138 F-35 Lightning jets) and the F-35 Patuxent River Integrated Test Force (ITF) are conducting a variety of flight maneuvers and deck operations to develop the F-35B operating envelope for QEC carriers.

A composite image of the first SRVL.

Among the most important parts of the trials are the rolling vertical landings: as the acronym suggests, STOVL aircraft use the vertical landing to return to the ship. Using this kind of procedure, the approaching aircraft slowly reaches a hovering position to the port side of the ship before moving sideways over the deck and descending slowly. This technique has pretty strict weight requirements because of the thrust required to keep the aircraft airborne the time needed to put the wheels down. The rolling technique is intended to allow pilots to recover to the ship with more stores: the combination of thrust from its rotating nozzle, lift-fan and lift generated by the wing as an effect of the (slow) forward movement of the aircraft can save up to 7000lbs greater all up weight (UAW). Without the SRVL technique, the F-35B would be forced to jettison some or all of its external store when returning to the ship.

According to some sources the Soviet Yak-38 “Forger” jets could perform rolling landings on carrier decks but required the use of a safety barrier net; however, it’s not clear whether actual tests were conducted at sea.



In order to prepare to the first SRVL pilots and engineers tested the new technique using BAE Systems’ F-35/QEC Integration Simulator—a full motion, dome simulator—based in Warton, England. Some 3,000 takeoffs and landings were important to discover “where the edges of the test envelope are,” said Royal Air Force Sq. Ldr. Andy Edgell, FOCFT (FW) lead test pilot at the Pax River ITF.

“SRVL tests are truly experimental,” Edgell said. “It involves landing a fast jet onto an aircraft carrier with forward relative speed but without the braking assistance typically provided by an arresting gear and hook. It’s going to be a really rewarding moment for British aviation to watch that procedure actually take place.”

Back in 2007, Qinetiq’s VAAC Harrier testbed was used by the Aircraft Test and Evaluation Centre using a “dummy deck” at Qinetiq’s Boscombe Down site in Wiltshire, to assess the possibility to perform SRVL approaches as a way to use thrust-vectoring to a slow speed while still gaining the benefit of wing-borne lift.

The UK is the only nation currently planning to use the SRVL technique. However, the US Marine Corps and the Italian Navy (which should operate the F-35B to replace the AV-8B+ Harrier II from Italy’s Cavour aircraft carrier in the future) might take advantage of the rolling landing in the future, leveraging the testing conducted by the F-35 ITF aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Following the crash occurred on Sept. 28 and involving a U.S. Marine Corps F-35B, the U.S. Services and international partners temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while conducting a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft. British F-35Bs involved in the flight trials from HMS Queen Elizabeth and Italian F-35 were not grounded though, as inspections did not find the faulty part.

Top image credit: Royal Navy / Crown Copyright

(Almost) All F-35 Joint Strike Fighters Grounded Worldwide Following September 28 Crash

Suspected Fuel Problem Results in Grounding of Joint Strike Fighter. Not all of them actually…

All Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters were ordered grounded on Thursday, October 12, 2018 for safety inspections of their fuel flow systems following the September 28, 2018 crash of a U.S. Marine F-35B Lightning II in Beaufort, South Carolina. It was the first crash of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter since the worldwide program, the largest defense contract in history, began flying in 2006.

“The U.S. Services and international partners have temporarily suspended F-35 flight operations while the enterprise conducts a fleet-wide inspection of a fuel tube within the engine on all F-35 aircraft,” the F-35 Joint Program Office announced in a statement Thursday morning.

The grounding of the F-35 fuels criticism of the program that has been under scrutiny from the start due to cost and program delays. The Joint Strike Fighter program has been characterized as the most expensive defense program in history. A Pentagon study claimed the entire program may exceed $1 trillion USD including maintenance for the entire fleet over its lifespan, not accounting for inflation.

Developed during the emergence of social media, the F-35 program has been a lightning rod for public criticism of defense spending. Recent analytics on TheAviationist.com’s Facebook page reveal that a September 28 story about the first F-35 crash attracted over ten times as many “Likes” than a previous story earlier that week about the first combat mission flown by the U.S. in an F-35. The analytics strongly suggest readers are more attracted to negative news about the F-35 than positive reports about the program.



The fleet-wide grounding of the aircraft is expected to be short-term according to a statement released today by the F-35 program office.

Actually, not all the F-35s have been eventually grounded.

“The Italian Air Force has already completed its inspections and, as it did not find the faulty part, is back to normal flight operations, according to two sources” Lara Seligman reported. Indeed, the Italian F-35A aircraft were reportedly flying today’s late afternoon, launching from Decimomannu, Sardinia, where they are currently deployed to undertake air-to-ground and CAS (Close Air Support) training.

Same for the British F-35B jets, involved in the flight trials from HMS Queen Elizabeth:

The Israeli have halted their operations with the F-35I Adir.

“If suspect fuel tubes are installed, the part will be removed and replaced. If known good fuel tubes are already installed, then those aircraft will be returned to flight status. Inspections are expected to be completed within the next 24 to 48 hours.”

In its official statement on Thursday morning the program office went on to say the grounding of all F-35s worldwide, “is driven from initial data from the ongoing investigation of the F-35B that crashed in the vicinity of Beaufort, South Carolina on 28 September. The aircraft mishap board is continuing its work and the U.S. Marine Corps will provide additional information when it becomes available.”

Top Image: file photo of U.S. F-35A Lightning II. All versions of the aircraft have been temporarily grounded according to official statements (Photo: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist.com.)