The F-35B Marine variant just completed important developmental tests designed to push the joint strike fighter to its limits aboard the US's newest aircraft carrier, the USS America.
The F-35B proved it can perform its short takeoffs with a variety of weapons loadouts, some of which can be asymmetrical. These tests had been done on land before, but carrier takeoffs are a different beast.
"There is no way to recreate the conditions that come with being out to sea," than going out there and testing onboard a carrier, said Gabriella Spehn, an F-35 weapons engineer from the Pax River Integrated Test Force in a Navy statement.
Sailors assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS America and F-35B Lightning II Marine Corps personnel prepare to equip the aircraft with inert 500-pound GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided test bombs during flight operations. US Navy
But even at sea aboard the America, which can get up to 25 mph, the F-35B performed as expected.
"As we all know, we can't choose the battle and the location of the battle, so sometimes we have to go into rough seas with heavy swells, heave, roll, pitch, and crosswinds," said Royal Air Force squadron leader and F-35 test pilot Andy Edgell.
International partners, like Edgell, participated in the testing onboard. While other nations lack the large deck aircraft carriers that the US has, several other nations, like the UK and Japan, operate smaller carriers that await the F-35B.
"The last couple of days we went and purposely found those nasty conditions and put the jets through those places, and the jet handled fantastically well. So now the external weapons testing should be able to give the fleet a clearance to carry weapons with the rough seas and rough conditions," Edgell said.
"We know the jet can handle it. A fleet clearance will come -- then they can go forth and conduct battle in whatever environment."
However, another first occurred on board. The America's weapons department assembled over 100 bombs for the F-35B to carry.
Ordnance is prepared for an F-35B Lightning II short takeoff/vertical landing aircraft on the amphibious assault ship USS America. | US Navy photo
For many of the sailors in the Weapon's Department of the America, part of a new class of US carriers meant specifically to accommodate the F-35, this was their first chance at actually handling and assembling ordnance.
"Being able to do this feels like we are supporting the overall scope of what the ship is trying to achieve. Without ordnance, to us, this ship isn't a warship. This is what we do," said Petty Officer 1st Class Hung Lee.
According to sailors on board, the team went from building one bomb in four hours, to building 16 in three hours.
After a troubled road filled with cost overruns and setbacks, the F-35B finally appears to be nearing readiness.