Since the arrival of the F-35B Lightning on the deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth, a team made up of hundreds of people has been working day and night to make history as we progress crucial flight trials to integrate the aircraft and the carrier.
The first landings were flown by test pilots Commander Nathan Gray of the Royal Navy and Squadron Leader Andy Edgell of the Royal Air Force at the end of September, as they embarked the two test aircraft.
The first night testing was conducted just a few days later and since then many more take-offs and landings have been executed to provide the information the UK requires to be able to deploy this combination of aircraft and carrier safely and effectively.
As an industry test pilot I am hugely honoured to be part of this test team. Major Michael Lippert of the US Marine Corps is also on the team, making four test pilots in all.
One of the proudest moments for me has been to fly the first Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing or SRVL.
This is a new landing method which is unique to the F-35B and the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers and involves landing with higher forward speed like a normal airplane, but without the braking assistance provided by an arresting gear and hook required for a conventional carrier landing.
The higher forward speed allows the F-35 to land at a weight significantly above the maximum weight for a vertical landing, so weapons which would otherwise need to be jettisoned before landing can be brought back on board the carrier.
At Naval Air Station Patuxent River, the US Navy’s test base, we have been making steady progress towards the first SRVL for many years.
Our test team, the F-35 Integrated Test Force (ITF), is made up of technicians, maintainers, engineers, support staff and test pilots from the UK and US and from industry including BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin, and many of the members of the ITF are taking part in these trials.
As well as testing the real aircraft, our preparation for the first SRVL included ‘flying’ thousands of similar landings in the synthetic world using a unique integration simulator at BAE Systems’ site in Warton, Lancashire.
After just a short time at sea the preparation in the simulator has proved to be extremely beneficial and we could not have been better prepared.
Every person involved in these trials recognises we are making history with every day that passes; this vital work will underpin UK maritime operations around the world for decades to come.
To have successfully completed the first SRVL is a truly rewarding moment for all those involved in making it possible, and for British aviation as a whole.