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UK’s first next-generation jet fighter completed

artist’s impression of Joint Strike Fighters on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth

23/11/2011

Britain’s first next-generation combat aircraft, the cutting-edge Joint Strike Fighter, has rolled out of the factory in Texas where it’s been built. The JSF – also known as the F35 Lightning II – will provide the blistering punch of the nation’s two future aircraft carriers on operations around the globe from the end of this decade.

This is a particularly exciting time for the UK Carrier Strike project and for the Royal Navy’s return to fixed wing flying from the sea, post the demise of the Harrier.
Capt Jock Alexander, the Carrier Strike and Aviation advisor on the Naval Staff

This is Britain’s first next-generation jet – the blistering punch of the Royal Navy’s future aircraft carriers – rolling out of the factory.

The F35 Lightning II, which will be flown by Fleet Air Arm and Royal Air Force aviators, will provide the strike of the largest ships ever to fly the White Ensign, HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, from the end of this decade.

Before there can be any thought of flying the F35 – also known as the Joint Strike Fighter – from the 65,000-tonne leviathans or land bases, however, years of testing and evaluation are required.

To that end, trials variants of the Lightning II are needed – and this brightly-liveried one is Britain’s first, designated BK-1.

It rolled out of the factory gates at Lockheed Martin’s giant Forth Worth complex in Texas yesterday ahead of various checks and ground tests before it takes to the skies.

The stealthy F35 is capable of reaching more than one and a half times the speed of sound, carrying twice the payload of a Harrier and gives the pilot an unparalleled view of the airspace around him thanks to sensors and cutting-edge technology.

The first British Lightning is the short takeoff/vertical landing (STOVL) version of the jet, the F35B, in line with the UK’s original requirements.

Following last year’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, however, the MOD plumped for a traditional carrier version of the Joint Strike Fighter, the F35C, which will be launched by catapult and caught on the deck as it lands using arrestor wires.

The combat and mission systems of the ‘jump jet’ version of the F35 are all but identical, so British aviators will be using BK-1 as a crucial learning experience – not least as the UK’s first F35C won’t be ready for testing for a few years.

The F35 is classed as the world’s ‘fifth generation’ jet fighter – the Gloster Meteor and Messerschmitt 262 were first, the Harrier third, while the RAF’s Typhoons are fourth generation – thanks to its advanced stealth technology and combat systems (among its key features is the ability for aircraft to ‘share’ information – a pilot can see everything his wingman can see).

Such leaps in technology mean there’s a lot for air and ground crew to learn about the Lightning II – and getting to grips with BK-1 is, in the words of Capt Dickie Payne, Deputy Assistant Chief-of-Staff Carrier Strike, “represents the first step in re-generating the UK’s carrier strike capability”.

Lt Matt Fooks-Bale, a former Harrier pilot and weapons instructor now on the carrier strike staff at Fleet Headquarters, added:

“The sooner we get involved in testing, the better.

“It’s important to learn how to ‘fight’ the F35, how to develop tactics. In a Harrier you would spend half your time simply flying the aircraft. That’s not the case on the F35.

“Getting our hands on BK-1 means we should be at the top of our game when the F35C is delivered, having had time to learn about the aircraft.”

The first naval pilot is due to fly BK-1 in the spring of 2013 and, from the end of that year, the JSF team will begin developing the tactics which front-line squadrons use when the jet enters service with the Fleet Air Arm and RAF in 2018.

“This is a particularly exciting time for the UK Carrier Strike project and for the Royal Navy’s return to fixed wing flying from the sea, post the demise of the Harrier,”

said Capt Jock Alexander, the Carrier Strike and Aviation advisor on the Naval Staff.

“The Joint Strike Fighter will be operated in a joint force with the Royal Air Force and young pilots joining the Royal Navy today can look forward to operating this world-beating aircraft from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers.”

Group Captain Harv Smyth, the UK’s Joint Strike Fighter national deputy added:

“This is a major milestone in the JSF programme for the UK –and we look forward to starting to operate the first British F-35s next year.

“The JSF is ideally suited to the UK’s future combat air capability needs, since it provides a world-class fifth-generation air system, which is capable of operating from both the land and our new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier.”

Although the fighter is built by Lockheed in the US, Britain’s BAE Systems is heavily involved in the project providing its expertise on jump jet technology, manufacturing, flight testing and systems.

In addition to the US and UK military, Italy, Netherlands, Turkey, Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway are all involved in the F35 programme, while the Israeli Air Force has chosen the aircraft for its future fleet and Japan and the Republic of Korea are considering buying it.

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