People on this side of the Atlantic Ocean tend to look twice when they see the “c” replacing the “s” in the British version of the word “defense.”
Now, those on the other side of the Atlantic might look twice when they see the “c” entered into the Royal Air Force’s flight log.
On Feb. 21, Royal Air Force Sqdn. Ldr. Jim Schofield became the United Kingdom’s first military test pilot to fly the F-35C, the carrier variant of the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter aircraft.
“The F-35 has the best handling of any jet I’ve flown, which means it’s going to be easier to land on a ship than current aircraft, and pilots can devote all of their attention to the mission,” Schofield said. “Combined with the world’s best sensors which allow the pilot to find and target anything that’s out there, and a stealthy signature, which means the enemy can’t do the same to you, this is exactly the aircraft the UK needs to provide the best protection for our soldiers, sailors and airmen for the next 35 years.”
Schofield’s flight is the latest in a series of milestones for the UK’s Joint Combat Aircraft program, which included the first F-35C launch on the test electromagnetic aircraft launch system Nov. 18, 2011, and the rollout of the first UK F-35 from the production line four days later. EMALS is the current launching system of record for the future HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier, currently under construction.
“This is another major step forward for the UK’s Joint Combat Aircraft programme,” said Group Capt. Harv Smyth, the UK’s JSF national deputy. “Squadron Leader Schofield is now test-flying both the [short takeoff and vertical landing] and carrier variants of the F-35, which affords the UK unprecedented early learning regarding this 5th-generation air system. This is a very exciting period for JCA, as not only are we now testing both the B and the C variants, but we look forward to taking delivery of our first production F-35 aircraft later this year.”
As an international program, the F-35 has eight cooperative partners working with the United States; the United Kingdom was the first country to join the program in January 2001.
According to the RAF’s website, the F-35 employed as the Joint Combat Aircraft in UK forces will offer many advantages over legacy platforms: low observability, supersonic flight, improved survivability, internal and external weapons carriage, increased range and easier supply and maintenance.
The F-35C carrier variant of JSF is distinct from the F-35A and F-35B variants, with its larger wing surfaces and reinforced landing gear to withstand catapult launches and deck landing impacts associated with the demanding aircraft carrier environment. The F-35C is undergoing test and evaluation at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., prior to delivery to the fleet and international partners.