FARNBOROUGH, England — Preparations are underway for the first F-35 test flight aboard the United Kingdom’s new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier slated for 2018, BAE Systems officials said Tuesday at the Farnborough International Airshow.
BAE Systems engineers and UK Ministry of Defence officials are working with simulation technologies in order to ensure the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter will successfully take-off and land aboard the British Royal Navy’s newly christened HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier. The ship was christened July 4, 2014.
U.S. and British officials had planned for the F-35 to execute a fly over of the Queen Elizabeth on the day of its christening to be the F-35s first ever international flight before the grounding of the Joint Strike Fighter fleet canceled those plans.
“Overall, this ship has been designed with the F-35 in mind from day one,” said David Atkinson, BAE Systems, Team JSF.
Slated to enter service in 2020, the 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth is the largest warship ever built by the UK. It will be the first in a series of two planned Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, ships being engineered to house and sustain as many as 36 JSF aircraft, BAE officials said.
While not quite the size of an U.S. Navy Nimitz or Ford-class aircraft carrier, the Queen Elizabeth-class ships will be 280-meters long and carry a crew of 671. The ship will house a total of 40 aircraft including Joint Strike Fighters and Chinook and Merlin helicopters. The first helicopter trial flights from the carrier deck are slated for 2017, Atkinson said.
The ship is being built by a BAE Systems-led team including Babcock and Thales. Some estimates put the prince of the Queen Elizabeth at $5 billion U.S. dollars.
The design, configuration and deck space of the ship have all been engineered to accommodate the F-35B Short Take-Off-and-Landing, or STOVL, variant of the JSF – the same variant of the aircraft planned for the U.S. Marine Corps.
Simulations replicating the glide slope of the aircraft, configuration and lighting on the ship and the wind, water and ship speed are all part of the preparatory calculus.
“We’ve used a highly accurate F-35 flight simulator, a very accurate model of the ship including the way it moves through the waves to develop all the things we need to do in the aircraft and on the ship to conduct that maneuver successfully,” Atkinson said.
Also, unlike U.S. carriers, the Queen Elizabeth class ships have no catapult technology or arresting gear to help fighter jets land.
“We’ve been developing this concept of shipboard rolling vertical landing to enhance the bring back of the F-35B. The Queen Elizabeth Class flight deck is big enough to allow us to do a forward rolling vertical landing on the flight deck and stop using the brake,” Atkinson added.
Atkinson explained how the F-35B STOVL aircraft will have the option to hover and perform a vertical landing or perform the shipboard rolling vertical landing, or SRVL, depending upon mission requirements or operational need.
“The performance of the aircraft is affected by the airspeed. It is all about the matching of the wind on the deck relative to the flight speed of the aircraft. You will always have your vertical landing capability. SRVL is a quick maneuver where the aircraft does not have to hover,” Atkinson added.
Performing the SRVL will allow the F-35B to travel with an additional few thousand pounds of payload such as extra fuel or weaponry, he said.
The Queen Elizabeth carriers plan to place a trained F-35B pilot in the ship’s control room area in order to facilitate successful communication with approaching JSF aircraft, Atkinson said. A landing signal officer will be placed at a special work station on board the carrier.
“From the earliest stages, a lot of attention has been paid to the human-machine interface and precisely what is needed in order to make that flight control work in the most efficient possible way,” he said.
“The landing signal officer will be a fully qualified F-35 pilot with additional training to be the subject matter expert on the F-35.”
Since there is no arresting gear, the SRVL landing will need to succeed in achieving the correct speed, decent and glide slope while approaching the deck of the carrier so as to be able to come to a complete stop by merely using brakes.
The success of this effort will be assisted by a velocity vector placed into the helmet mounted display of the F-35 which will help the pilot know when it is time to catch a final decent down onto the ship’s deck, Atkinson explained.
Visual landing aids in the form of different colored lights are built into the tram lines on the carrier deck to help pilots land as well, Atkinson said.