The Joint Strike Fighter program has made the first successful arrested landing of an F-35C aboard an aircraft carrier, with the trap of test aircraft CF-03 aboard the USS Nimitz off the California coast on November 3.
The aircraft is one of two specially configured integrated test force (ITF) jets operated by the US Navy’s VX-23 Air Test and Evaluation Squadron for the first series of trials – dubbed Developmental Testing I (DT-I) – aboard the Nimitz, which are expected to last two weeks.
“Today is a landmark event in the development of the F-35C,” the aircraft’s pilot, Cmdr Tony Wilson, said after the landing. “It is the culmination of many years of hard work by a talented team of thousands. I’m very excited to see America’s newest aircraft on the flight deck of her oldest aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz.”
During DT-1 the two aircraft will perform fit and maintenance checks of the jets and their support equipment in the carrier’s hangar, lifts and on deck, and will conduct a series of catapult launches and arrested landings. Both aircraft have been instrumented for the trials, and the results will be heavily scrutinised to better inform future trials and eventually, F-35C carrier operations.
“Our F-35 integrated test team has done an amazing job preparing for today. This will be one landing out of thousands more that will happen over the next few decades,” F-35 Program Executive Officer, Lt Gen Chris Bogdan said in a statement.
“For months, we’ve been working with the Nimitz crew, Naval Air Forces… Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney, as well as their suppliers, to prepare and train for this event. We plan on learning a lot during this developmental test and will use that knowledge to make the naval variant of the F-35 an even more effective weapons platform.”
The sea trials had been delayed about a month following June’s F-35A engine fire at Eglin AFB which resulted in the fleet initially being grounded and then flight restrictions being imposed, and follows an extended period of land-based arrested landings and catapult launches at NAS Patuxent River and at Lakehurst in New Jersey.
An initial series of land-based trials in 2010/11 found the arrestor hook was not sufficiently damped and was often skipping over the arrestor cables due to its proximity to the aircraft’s rear-set main landing gear, and this resulted in a redesign which included a stronger fuselage mounting point and a re-profiled hook to better snag the cable.