RAF Squadron Leader first UK military test pilot to fly F-35C
Royal Air Force (RAF) Squadron Leader Jim Schofield has become the UK's first military test pilot to fly the F-35C, the carrier variant of the Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft.
Above: Royal Air Force test pilot Squadron Leader Jim Schofield sits in the cockpit of an F-35C Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter test aircraft after his first flight in the carrier variant 21 February 2012. Schofield is the first pilot from the UK to fly the F-35C. US Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Andy Wolfe
As an international programme, the F-35 has eight cooperative partners working with the United States. The UK was the first country to join the programme in January 2001 and is planning to purchase the carrier variant to enter service as the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA).
RAF squadron leader Jim Schofield said: "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.
"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 JCA programme, which included the first F-35C launch on the test electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS) on 18 November 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.
Group Capt. Harv Smyth, the UK's JSF national deputy said: "This is another major step forward for the UK's Joint Combat Aircraft programme. 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."
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 prior to delivery to the fleet and international partners.
Progress of F-35 testing and production
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 programme continues to build on its 2011 flight test schedule. For 2012, the baseline F-35 System Development and Demonstration (SDD) flight test plan calls for the accumulation of 1,001 test flights and 7,873 test points. However, growth in test point requirements throughout the year is anticipated, and the plan will be adjusted as needed.
As of 20 February, the F-35 Lightning II 5th Generation multirole fighter had conducted 114 flight tests and achieved 773 test points. A portion of the earned test points came from work added to the flight test baseline plan. Lockheed Martin has delivered three F-35s to the US Department of Defense (DoD) year to date.
Since 1 January, the F-35 programme accomplished several flight test and production milestones:
- On Jan. 9, AF-4, an F-35A Conventional Takeoff and Landing (CTOL) test aircraft, reached the highest altitude to date in an F-35; 43,000 feet Mean Sea Level (MSL).
- Lockheed Martin ferried the first two production model F-35B Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) aircraft to the US Marine Corps on 11 January. The aircraft, known as BF-6 and BF-8, are now assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing's Marine Fighter/Attack Training Squadron 501 residing with the host 33d Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Fla.
- Demonstrating the ongoing maturation of the F-35 integrated sensor suite, AF-3, an F-35A CTOL test jet, completed the first low Distributed Aperture System (DAS) approach on 17 January.
- On 18 January, the first night flight in the history of the Lockheed Martin F-35 programme was completed at Edwards AFB, Calif. Piloted by Lockheed Martin test pilot Mark Ward, AF-6, an F-35A CTOL test jet, took off at 5:05 p.m. PST and landed after sunset at 6:22 p.m.
- With the ferry flight of BF-7, an F-35B STOVL, Eglin AFB, Fla., became home of the largest F-35 fleet in the DOD on 19 January. BF-7 was the 23rd F-35 Lightning II delivered to the DoD.
- On 20 January, citing the tremendous progress the F-35B STOVL variant made in 2011, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta rescinded probation for the F-35B, almost a full year ahead of schedule.
- The F-35 SDD fleet including AA-1, the original test aircraft, crossed the 2,500 flight hour threshold on 25 January .
- On 16 February at Edwards AFB, Calif., AF-1, an F-35A CTOL test jet, flew the first external weapons test mission in programme history.
Cumulative flight test activity totals for 2012 through 20 February are provided below:
- F-35A CTOL jets have flown 46 times.
- F-35B STOVL aircraft have completed 45 flights.
- F-35C Carrier Variant (CV) jets have flown 23 times.
From the start of flight testing in December 2006, F-35s have flown 1,704 times, including the production-model flights and AA-1, the original flight test aircraft.
The F-35 Lightning II is a 5th Generation fighter, combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment. Lockheed Martin is developing the F-35 with its principal industrial partners, Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems.