Military Aviation

F-35B Lightning II Performs First Night shipborne rolling vertical landing Aboard HMS Prince of Wales

F-35B first night shipborne rolling vertical landing aboard HMS Prince of Wales

An F-35 Lightning II test pilot performed the first night shipborne rolling vertical landing (SRVL) aboard HMS Prince of Wales (R09), the UK’s newest aircraft carrier, in Atlantic waters off the US Eastern Seaboard just after 9 p.m. Oct. 29, 2023.

According to a NAVAIR news release, Marine Maj. Paul Gucwa landed in an F-35B short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant test jet during carrier qualifications, or CQs. The rolling landing technique being tested is part of developmental test phase 3 (DT-3) underway currently.

Gucwa performed the first SRVL of an F-35B fighter jet aboard HMS Prince of Wales aircraft carrier on Oct. 19, 2023.

Carrier qualifications

Pilots perform CQs in nominal conditions for variables like wind over deck, deck motion, landing speed, and touch down location. The known safest conditions are called the “heart of the envelope.” While Gucwa flew within this, the context of doing so at night was, in effect, an envelope expansion.

US Marine Corps test pilot Maj. Paul Gucwa performs a vertical landing (VL) in an F-35B Lightning II short takeoff vertical landing (STOVL) variant strike fighter during a mission to expand the flight envelope for the technique aboard the UK aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales (R09) Oct. 29, 2023. Gucwa also performed the first night shipborne rolling VL (SRVL) during the evening’s flight period. Gucwa is one of three test pilots from embarked with a broader team from the Patuxent River F-35 Integrated Test Force (PAX ITF) to conduct flight test during the ongoing developmental test phase 3 (DT-3) flight trials. HMS Prince of Wales, the UK’s newest aircraft carrier and biggest warship, is deployed to the Western Atlantic for WESTLANT 23.

“Expanding on the initial work the Pax River F-35 Integrated Test Force (Pax ITF) team executed during DT-1 and DT-2 is the next step in providing these types of increased capabilities to the warfighter, which is what flight test is all about,” said Gucwa, who is also the DT-3 test project officer.

Shipborne rolling vertical landing as alternate way to land the STOVL jet

SRVLs are being looked at as an alternate way to land the STOVL jet. If assessed a viable technique, pilots could return to a ship and land with additional weight, for example more fuel or weapons, than permissible for a VL.

To perform an SRLV, F-35B pilots usually approach the carrier from the port side to a position adjacent to a landing spot. They then transition, or fly sideways, to the landing spot and land vertically. More than looking and sounding different, the landing technique could lead to tactics where a pilot returns to the ship with heavier loads, for example more fuel or weapons.

The only Level 1 international partner in the F-35 program

The flight trials on Britain’s biggest warship, which are taking place during the ship’s deployment to the Western Atlantic for WESTLANT 23, are designed to gather data that could lead to increased operational capability for the 65,000-tonne ship, for QEC carrier operations, and for the 5th generation joint strike fighter air system of choice for aircraft for the US Air Force, US Navy, US Marine Corps, international partners, and foreign military sales customers.

A key ally, the UK is the only Level 1 international partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. The F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office (JPO) leads the life-cycle management of the F-35A, F-35B, and F-35C variants.

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HMS Prince of wales

HMS Prince of wales is a Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier and it is one of the most powerful surface warships ever constructed in the UK.

Her flight deck is 70 metres wide and 280 metres long – enough space for three football pitches – and she holds 45 days’ worth of food in stores.

She will have a crew complement (minimum crew) of around 700, increasing to around 1,600 with aircraft onboard.

HMS Prince of Wales’ size and scope is awe-inspiring – she can embark 36 F-35B and four Merlin Helicopters.

HMS Prince of Wales’ crew will have an expansive range of skills, so she will be able to meet the widest range of tasks around the world, including:

  • Humanitarian relief, saving lives across the seven seas
  • High intensity warfighting
  • Fighting terrorism
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Photo credit: US Navy

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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