HMS Queen Elizabeth's flight deck team experience live F-35s for first time

Sailors from Britain’s new carrier got their first taste of the jet they’ll be working with – just weeks before the hi-tech stealth fighter makes its debut on their flight deck.

flight deck team experience live F-35s for first timeMembers of Flying Control and flight deck handlers from HMS Queen Elizabeth crossed the Atlantic to see live F-35B Lightning II jets in action – giving them a flavour of the smells, noise and heat generated by the Navy’s first fifth generation fighter.

Their Portsmouth-based carrier is due to conduct flying trials with the state-of-the-art aircraft in the late summer/early autumn off the eastern seaboard of the USA.

Preparations for that moment – nearly a decade after a Royal Navy warship last hosted a fast jet – have been taking place for months, even years, on both sides of the ocean.

The carrier’s flight deck team have trained with replicas at RNAS Culdrose to get a feel for their size and weight as they move them around a mock-up of the new carrier’s sprawling deck.

And useful though the models have been, they stop short of the experience with the real thing.

It’s the first time they’ve ever seen the jet or been up and close to it as it’s performing its flight manoeuvres, so they got to feel the environment of what it’s like

Commander James Blackmore, HMS Queen Elizabeth's Commander Air

So around 20 sailors watched F-35B test aircraft BF-02 and BF-04 taxi, perform two vertical landings apiece, and conduct a couple short take-offs at Pax River air base, 50 miles outside Washington DC.

The ground reverberated as each aircraft approached the tarmac for its vertical landings, hovering for several seconds before descending. Having watched the Pax experts handle the jets, the QE team took over, taxiing a working F-35B for the first time.

The carrier’s Wings – Commander Air Cdr James Blackmore – said the few days at Pax proved invaluable for many of his team.

“It’s the first time they’ve ever seen the jet or been up and close to it as it’s performing its flight manoeuvres, so they got to feel the environment of what it’s like, the sort of noise, the heat, the sound and the pressure of the aircraft, so that when it comes to deck for the first time, it’s not a surprise,” he added.

He flew the last Harrier to take off from HMS Ark Royal at the end of 2010 before both the jump jet and carrier passed into history.

“If you like, I almost closed down what we used to do,” Cdr Blackmore added. “The fact that eight years later, I’m now here opening that back up with the team is really good.”

The first four British F-35s are due to arrive at their new home, RAF Marham, next week – weather permitting on both sides of the Atlantic – to prepare for front-line operations with 617 Squadron, either from land or from the decks of the UK's two new carriers.