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F-35C winds up first jet blast deflector tests

The Navy's F-35C Lightning II has finished up its first go-round with a jet blast deflector like the ones it'll use to take off from aircraft carriers at sea, the service announced. Engineers at the base formerly known as Naval Air Station Lakehurst, N.J. checked off some 40 test points with the airplane earlier this month, learning how flight deck crews will need to rig their equipment at sea to accommodate the thrust and heat from its engine.

Per the announcement from Naval Air Systems Command:

The JBD testing collected data on the effects of the F-35C engine exhaust on fleet-representative 4- and 6-panel JBD units and the flight deck in front of the JBDs, measuring temperatures, pressures, sound levels and velocities to collect environmental data and validate a JBD cooling panel configuration model.

“From an aircraft perspective, the testing went without a hitch,” said Tom Briggs, air vehicle engineering lead.  “We adjusted to weather delays to complete forty test points on schedule, all because of the teamwork between the ITF, Lakehurst and industry crews.”

Each Nimitz-class aircraft carrier has a JBD for each of its four catapults.  The size, cooling configuration and angle to the catapult vary slightly between the four, so the test team had to repeat various tests – military and limited afterburner power takeoffs – for the various JBD configurations.

“We’ve learned a lot and our technical capabilities have expanded immensely since the original JBD testing for the F/A-18 about ten years ago,” said Kathy Donnelly, senior executive for aircraft launch, recovery and support equipment engineering at Lakehurst.  “We’re able to bring in a lot more rigor to the F-35C testing so the fleet will be well prepared for its introduction.”

With greater technical capabilities today, the single aircraft JBD testing will be repeated with an F/A-18 to collect the same data.  This will allow for comparison between the two aircraft and the development of a combined cooling model for the entire fleet.
The fleet needs a "combined cooling model" because the Navy's air wings will include both F/A-18s and F-35Cs, so engineers must figure out how the JBDs can accommodate both aircraft in quick succession for cyclic flight ops. An optimum setting for the cooling systems on the ships' jet blast deflectors will mean sailors won't need to change it as they're shooting different jets down the catapults.

There's more from NavAir: "The test team also collaborated with Naval Sea Systems Command during the testing to measure the effects of heat on the flight deck. Future carrier suitability testing is scheduled for later this summer, including JBD testing with two aircraft, catapult launches and arrestments in preparation for initial ship trials in 2013."

Given all the dire predictions about what could happen when F-35s actually start flying on ships, it'll be very interesting to learn more about what these tests found about the effects of the jet blast on the flight deck. We'll pass that along as soon as we know.

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