Lockheed Martin F-35B: Nighttime STOVL
On August 14, the Lockheed-Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter landed its first nighttime vertical landing on the USS Wasp, an amphibious assault craft. During the second in a series of three planned developmental tests designed to put the F-35B through its paces for the Marines, the craft was flown in its first ever nighttime missions. The first test, the shipboard phase, was completed in October 2011.
The craft performed a short takeoff and vertical landing, or STOVL. The test pilot, Lt. Col. C.R. “Jimi” Clift, said that “It all went extremely well… Eight successful landings in one night, so we’re tracking favorably along the learning curve.” Lt. Col. Clift is a trained Harrier pilot, and is skilled in VTOL maneuvers.
The United States Marine Corps conducted a series of 18 day ship trials involving two F-35B fighters. The tests were intended to test the allowable wind envelope for launch and recovery of the craft, perform the first night missions at sea, and to evaluate mission systems and “the dynamic interface associated with aircraft operations on a moving flight deck.”
The ship was retrofitted to be able to handle the new fighter, with engineers working extensively to make the USS Wasp ready to carry the F-35B. A new coating was applied to make sure the flight deck could handle the heat, guide lights and sensors were moved around, and new equipment was installed allowing officers to monitor the environment and gather data on the new plane’s performance. The on-site team even reported performing an engine removal on one of the planes in record time to guarantee the crafts were ready for action.
The Marines anticipate that, following the third array of tests on the F-35B, the craft will be ready for deployment in 2015. By that time, the plane is expected to be certified for shipboard operations.