For the Navy's F-35C Lightning II, this is where the rubber hits the road -- in this case, the deck: The jet has begun the first stages of "carrier suitability testing," the Navy announced on Tuesday, at the base formerly known as Naval Air Station Lakehurst, now known by the poetic name "Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J."
Navy engineers want to begin to get a clearer understanding of how the C interacts with the flight decks and equipment aboard the aircraft carriers that will be its home, according to an announcement:
"CF-2 and the F-35 integrated test team from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. are at the NAVAIR facility in Lakehurst for the first jet blast deflector (JBD) testing, in preparation for carrier shipboard testing in 2013. The team is at the JBD test facility to evaluate deck heating, JBD panel cooling, and vibro-acoustic, thermal, and hot-gas ingestion environments."
The jet blast deflector is the big metal wall that rises up out of a carrier's flight deck behind a jet on the catapult for launch -- how, the Navy wonders, will the existing ones in the fleet stand up to the F-35's powerful engine exhaust? Could carriers that take aboard future squadrons of F-35s need special modifications or procedures to accommodate the new aircraft? The Navy wants to answer these and many other questions as possible before the Lightning II actually makes its first cats and traps at sea.