Preparing to Operate Off of the HMS Queen Elizabeth: Working with the Marines at VFMAT-501

Second Line of Defense // June 09, 2015

The F-35 global enterprise is a key enabler of the use of collaborative resources.

The Brits are training at Beaufort on F-35 equipment at the base – including the simulators – as their own facilities are stood up in the UK and the squadron grows before returning to the UK to get ready to work with the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The Brits are integrated members of the squadron and the Marine Corps and British maintainers are learning together how to adapt their specific maintenance protocols – which are different – to a common airplane.

Obviously, this will play real dividends down the road in terms of being able to cross deploy at sea.

And the Brits recognized that a software upgradeable airplane requires continuous upgrade in order to stay at the leading edge.

They are keeping a permanent detachment at Edwards AFB to remain engaged in the lifetime modernization envisaged for the F-35 global fleet.

Question: What is your function here at the squadron?

Sqn Ldr Hugh Nichols: I have two roles.  I am an instructor pilot within the Warlords and in that role, I am an integrated member of the team.

My other role is as the Senior National Representative for the UK on the base here.

Question: At Luke the Aussies and USAF pilots are flying each other’s planes. 

Is that happening here?

Sqn Ldr Hugh Nichols: It is.  In effect, we have a pooling agreement here.

Our aircraft are pooled with those of the Marines, and we fly aircraft in the pool not just the UK jet.

Question: When you return to the UK with the planes, obviously a wider F-35 community is being established with which you will operate. 

How do you see that?

Sqn Ldr Hugh Nichols: The majority of the operating areas big enough to fully utilize this aircraft will be out over the North Sea, so I can see us using this to our advantage by operating with our Northern European allies.

I would anticipate that there will be a lot of cooperation with Norwegians, Danes or the Dutch as we bring this exciting aircraft into service on European soil.

Question: And because the B and the A have common combat systems, your collaboration will not depend on which airframe you fly?

Sqn Ldr Hugh Nichols: That is correct.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you in an A, a B or C, once airborne, the mission systems are the same.

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