Redesigned Tailhook Tests Well In F-35 Sea Trials

Aviation Week // November 16, 2014

A pair of Lockheed Martin F-35Cs have completed their first series of arrested landings and catapult takeoffs from the carrier USS Nimitz this month, marking the start of the developmental test program for the U.S. Navy’s first stealthy piloted aircraft.

The seaborne takeoffs and landings mark a historic achievement for the $400 billion project after a summer marred with disappointments—a Pratt & Whitney F135 engine fire prompted an emergency egress from an F-35A in June that then caused the program to scrap plans for its international debut in the U.K. and put flight-testing 45 days behind schedule.

The apparent success of these carrier trials will also likely bring more visible support from the Navy, which has historically been conservative in planning for the F-35 purchases while continuing to advocate for more buys of Boeing F/A-18E/Fs.

Testing began on Nov. 3, when the first F-35C, CF-03 from Navy Air Test and Evaluation Sqdn. VX-23, touched down at 12:18 p.m. local time after flying to the carrier from MCAS Yuma, Arizona. Flown by Navy test pilot Cmdr. Tony “Brick” Wilson, the aircraft first made a low approach and overshoot, followed by a touch-and-go with the tailhook retracted. Finally, with an F/A-18F as chase, Wilson brought the F-35C in for the first arrested landing. A second aircraft, CF-05 flown by Lt. Cmdr. Ted “Dutch” Dyckman, arrived less than 1 hr. later and landed successfully at 13:11 p.m.

With media and senior defense officials watching from the ship’s Vulture’s Row, both aircraft made highly stable approaches and trapped firmly on the third of the Nimitz’s four arrestor wires. Touchdown between the second and third wires is considered the optimum for carrier landings. With no “bolters” in the first week of testing, a redesign of the F-35C’s tailhook, which failed repeatedly in ground testing three years ago, appears to be sound. A bolter is when a pilot touches down on the deck with the hook deployed, but has to accelerate and fly off again after it fails to snag the arresting wire. The redesign added stronger dampening to the hook to keep it from bouncing on deck upon touchdown. It also sharpened the hook for a better scoop under the wire. Having contributed to the delayed start of carrier trials, the performance of the redesigned hook was a significant watch item. “It’s a little bit different of a design, and obviously it works,” says U.S. Pacific Fleet, Naval Air Forces Cmdr., Vice Adm. David Buss.

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