The F-35 Lightning II Integrated Test Force
Royal Navy Commander Nathan Gray is a member of the Integrated Test Force alongside other F‑35B Lightning developmental test pilots from the RAF, USN, USMC and industry located in Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, USA.
With over 10 years of Harrier experience, Cdr Gray has conducted numerous operations from both land and sea, but only recently experienced how the F-35B performs a Ski-Jump take-off:
“With both the Sea Harrier FA2 and to a lesser extent the Harrier GR7/9/AV8B, the pilot was very much in-the-loop and had to execute near-perfect timing and control to safely execute a Ski-Jump launch. With the F-35B, the whole experience is much more controlled and predictable with the majority of the launch autonomous, allowing the pilot to focus on the mission ahead rather than being distracted by the launch.”
Each F-35 Developmental Test aircraft is able to capture a significant amount of detailed engineering information about each flight test, being equipped with flight science technologies including specially-designed landing gear to capture all necessary test data. Testing occurs daily with particular focus on aircraft configuration, weight and wind flight envelope (which is the combination of speed, altitude and angle of attack when a flying object is aerodynamically stable).
“Being given the responsibility of operating this 5th generation aircraft onboard the only aircraft carrier purpose-built for the F-35 for the first time in history, will be huge privilege and not one taken lightly here at the Integrated Test Force. We are all working incredibly hard to ensure the flight trials on HMS Queen Elizabeth are a success and deliver a truly strategic capability to the UK Government”.
F-35B Ski-Jump testing began in 2015 with clean-wing testing (no external stores) and are scheduled to conclude this autumn (with full external stores), in preparation for the first F-35B Lightning flight trials onboard HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2018.”