The F-35B jump-jet version of the Joint Strike Fighter has completed its first takeoff from a ski jump, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
The stealthy fifth-generation fighter jet designed to fly like a plane and land like a helicopter accomplished the task Friday from a test-ramp at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, according to Joe DellaVedova, a spokesman for the Pentagon's F-35 program.
"This test is one of the milestones along the way for integrating the F-35B aboard UK and Italian aircraft carriers," he said in an e-mail.
Both countries plan to deploy their short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) versions of the jet aboard carriers equipped with a ski jump, a feature that allows aircraft to carry more weight despite taking off from a short runway.
The Joint Strike Fighter is the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program, estimated to cost about $400 billion to purchase a total of 2,457 aircraft for the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy. U.S. allies are expected to buy hundreds more.
The U.K. plans to buy nearly 140 of the aircraft, all F-35B variants; Italy expects to purchase 90 of the jets, including 30 F-35B models.
The Royal Navy aims to deploy the planes on the new HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier, to be commissioned next year, and eventually the HMS Prince of Wales, to be launched around 2017. The Italian navy, meanwhile, will have to modify its Cavour light aircraft carrier to accommodate the new jets.
By comparison, the U.S. Navy is buying the F-35C, which is designed to work with the catapults and arresting gear used aboard the larger American aircraft carriers.
"This test was a success for the joint ski jump team," Peter Wilson, the BAE Systems test pilot and Briton who flew the June 19 mission, said in a press release. "The aircraft performed well and I can't wait until we're conducting F-35 ski jumps from the deck of the Queen Elizabeth carrier."
In the picture above, note the F-35B has its nozzle directed downward to maximize rate of ascent. In the release, Gordon Stewart, flying qualities engineer representing the UK Ministry of Defence, touted the aircraft's higher degree of automation during takeoffs and landings.
"For ski jump launches, the aircraft recognizes when it is on the ramp and responds by positioning the control surfaces and nozzles automatically for takeoff and climb," he said. "We'll be using these results -- along with those from future testing -- to help us prepare for the first shipboard ski jump launch from HMS Queen Elizabeth."
Unfortunately, that may still be a long way off. The ramp test itself was delayed by several months and F-35 trials aboard the Queen Elizabeth may not happen until around 2018 or later.
Meantime, check out the video of the F-35B launching from the ski jump at Pax River: